The former US embassy in Teheran, Image: Örlygur Hnefill/Flickr.
This article was originally published by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) on 21 December 2014.
“Where you stand depends on where you sit” is an old maxim of politics. Where Iranians sit is on a lot of history that inclines them to resent and mistrust America and Britain, and mistrust in particular anything that would compromise their freedom of action. It’s a history of which we in the West are barely aware, but which determines in large part Iran’s view of the world.
The current talks between Iran and six other powers about Iran and nuclear weapon potential are mostly about technical capabilities. The history is rarely taken into account by the other participants. Yet it is a factor.
Iranians remember with chagrin that for a long time, outside powers decided what policies they should follow and who be their leader. » More
Weekly vigil in Trafalgar Square against human rights violations and political executions in Iran. Photo: helen.2006/flickr.
It is no secret that Iran has an image problem in the international arena. As part of a comprehensive campaign to regain credibility and improve its reputation on the world stage, the country is adopting a new approach to diplomacy that seems to extend well beyond the nuclear dossier. But President Rouhani’s attempts to remake the country’s foreign policy since his election last June have met with much suspicion, as many outside Iran fear that this leopard can’t change its spots.
Delegates in the UN General Assembly have been noticing a turnaround in the way that the country’s representatives engage with social, humanitarian, and human rights issues. In October, observers were taken aback by the palpable softening of Iran’s tone1 in the delegate’s reaction to the latest report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran. In its statement, the Iranian representative to the Third Committee sounded conciliatory as she declared that “Iran emphasizes the need to use the momentum engendered by this election [of President Rouhani] to adopt a new and constructive approach by all relevant parties towards cooperation and dialogue for the promotion and protection of all human rights” adding that the “government does not claim that the situation of human rights within the country is perfect.” » More
Handshake Iran US, courtesy of Zereshk /Wikimedia Commons
WASHINGTON, DC – The United States government’s initial statements on the “first-step agreement on Iran’s nuclear program” have been focused, above all, on the great deal that the US and the West have gotten. Iran has agreed to halt enrichment of uranium above 5% purity; neutralize its stockpile of uranium enriched to near 20% purity; stop building its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium; forswear “next generation centrifuges”; shut down its plutonium reactor; and allow extensive new inspections of its nuclear facilities. In return, Iran will get “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief” from international sanctions.
The agreement covers only the next six months, during which both sides will try to reach a final comprehensive agreement. For now, as President Barack Obama put it, the burden remains, from the US point of view, “on Iran to prove to the world that its nuclear program will be exclusively for peaceful purposes.” » More
A view from the Busher Nuclear Power Plant in Iran, courtesy IAEA Imagebank/flickr
Opinions differ on the pivotal role of sanctions in opening the door to constructive engagement with Iran. Some, like Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, believe Iran was able “to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smoke screen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric.” Other perhaps more clear-eyed observers interpret Iran’s opening gambit at the Geneva negotiations—a proposal to scale back its existing uranium-enrichment program and allow increased international monitoring—as strong evidence of the coercive—and containing—power of UN targeted sanctions,
which have been in place since 2006.
Setting aside decades-long bilateral tensions that bred deep resentments, radicalism, and successive layers of US sanctions, the twin interventions of UN-sanctions and P5+1 diplomacy may serve as a model for future non-military responses to complex geopolitical predicaments. This potential success is now evident in the counterweights that have been put on Geneva’s bargaining table: against the reduction, if not elimination of sanctions, the lead-negotiator for the P5+1, Lady Catherine Ashton, demands the reduction, if not elimination, of Iran’s nuclear program. » More