Should the United States abandon its programme of sanctions against Iran and open diplomatic relations?
The voices calling for international sanctions against Iran are rising once again. Iran has admitted to a second 'secret' nuclear facility and engaged in provocative missile testing practices. Should the Obama Administration engage Iran by opening diplomatic relations after nearly three decades of estrangement or, instead, continue the policy of unilateral and international sanctions.
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Urging China and Russia to 'get on board'
The United States should renew official diplomatic relations with the Iranian government because, to do so, would provide the Obama Administration with leverage over China and Russia over the seemingly crucial issue of Iran's nuclear development programme. With energy trade between China and Iran valued at $100 billion (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/world/middleeast/28iran.html) and Russian interests in the Caucasus' and the Caspian Sea at stake, neither government will be willing to back further sanctions. Engagement with Ahmadinejad and the leading clerics will certainly equip the US with a certain amount of political leverage over Russia and China, in an attempt to persuade those two states to ‘get on board’ with international condemnation of Iranian nuclear development.
Negotiating with Tehran is not in itself enough to gain leverage over China and Russia. Russia only became more amenable to sanctions once President Obama reversed the decision to build an Anti Missile Defence in Poland and Czech Republic. Nevertheless, the Russian commitment to sanctions remains uncertain as Russia's influence in the matter is a useful bargaining chip with the West over other issues such as NATO enlargement to include Ukraine and Georgia. China remains opposed to sanctions. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/28/world/middleeast/28russia.html?scp=2&sq=russia&st=cse)
Diplomacy is the only solution
In order to prevent events in the Middle East from descending into serious confrontation, the United States should engage the Iranian leadership in diplomatic relations. Any other course can only lead to a further escalation in military displays and the inevitable provocation this causes in the West and Israel. In particular, the main powers meeting with the Iranian government this week will not be able to reach an agreement on sanctions. The interests of China and Russia prevent them from favouring such an action, as a Chinese spokesperson said at the UN this week, "[W]e believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue". (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/24/china-iran-nuclear-sanctions) Moreover, EU leaders, whilst talking tough, are unlikely to act in a way that adversely affects the Iranian people, ruling out many of the sanctions proposed by the US, such as oil and gas.
Political conditions inside Iran provide the perfect opportunity for the promotion of diplomatic relations
In the face on subjugated, but nonetheless enduring, internal opposition to the Ahmadinejad government, there is an increasing pressure on the mullahs to appease the groundswell of dissent that continues to push for engagement with the West. This unique opportunity to engage with Iran, in exchange for a freeze on nuclear weapons development and assistance with other problems in the Middle East, should not be missed.
The "secret" nuclear plant in Qom was no secret. More than six months prior to the UN General Assembly Iran notified the IAEA of its existence, and Western powers knew of its existence also. Under IAEA rules, a state does not have to notify the IAEA of any nuclear plants until six months prior to the enrichment of uranium in such plants. Iran did this, and the international community knew about this.
Iran poses no threat whatsoever to anyone and has complied, consistently, with IAEA rules. Iran has not violated the NPT and is within its full rights to develop nuclear technology - there is no evidence that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
The US, UK, Israel and others, however, are not obiding by the NPT, and are renewing, developing and will never dismantle their nuclear programmes altogether (despite agreements between the US and Russia, for example, to lessen their nuclear stockpiles). All of these acts are in direct violation of the NPT (Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty).
Israel has roughly 200 nuclear warheads. Iran has none. Iran has never called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". This was a mistranslation (a purposeful one).
Considering the information above (and there is plenty more of it elsewhere), it is absolutely wrong to impose sanctions on Iran, and to threaten them with military force. Not only is it wrong, however, it is detrimental to us also. The idea that we somehow gain by threatening innocent countries with war, and through ruining their economies is insane.
On what grounds has Iran stepped out of its place insofar as its nuclear programme is concerned? The answer is that it simply hasn't and, even if it did, it would be perfectly justifiable - given that there is the most prolific violater of human rights law, international law and one of the most aggressive states in history (proportionately) that has a stock pile of roughly 200 nuclear warheads, that receives at times $5-6 billion worth of aid per year, that receives apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets along with high-tech machine guns etc., and whose armed forces are better equipped and more numerous than that of the UK. This state is Israel and it consistently threatens Iran with military action, along with trying to get the international community to attack Iran as well.
If Iran had the slightest desire to get a nuclear deterrent, it would be perfectly understandable. It just so happens, however, that they are not doing so. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise, but every evidence to suggest that they are not trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Sanctions may still prevent the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon
If the United States softens its approach and engages Iran by renewing diplomatic relations there is little to prevent Iran from finally acquiring a nuclear weapon. By imposing a new round of comprehensive, and internationally-backed, sanctions, Iran can be denied the refined energy products, finance, and resources necessary to complete its nuclear project. Whilst President Ahmedinejad has dispelled claims that energy sanctions would seriously undermine the Iranian economy, yet, with Iran importing nearly 40% of its refined oil products, concerted and targeted sanctions could force the Iranian leadership into concession on its nuclear programme. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125417342102747375.html)
Whilst certain sanctions can lead to leverage in negotiations, many of the measures proposed by the US will only hurt the Iranian people, thus bolstering Ahmedinejad's standing and leading to a further deterioration in Middle East affairs. More than this, an embargo on Iranian energy would be almost impossible to get through the Security Council, as well as the fact that the EU, China, and Russia are huge customers. Finally, it has been suggested that "an embargo on Iranian oil would drive up prices and damage the global economy" (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125417342102747375.html), rendering sanctions ineffective and excessively destructive.
The Israel factor
Whilst it appears as if Israel is prepared to allow the Obama administration to take the lead in setting the agenda for the upcoming negotiations, Iran's nuclear ambitions are certainly a key concern for the Israeli leadership. In private circles, one must assume that the opening of diplomatic relations between the US and Iran would lead the Israeli's to seriously contemplate unilateral action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Iran's leadership cannot be trusted
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the clerics and mullahs who control the political system cannot be persuaded, or indeed forced, to abandon the nuclear development programme with diplomacy alone. Re-engagement would signal weakness and lead to an increasingly confident, and thus bellicose, Iranian leadership. Sanctions are the only means by which to deter, or otherwise prevent, a nuclear-armed, fundamentally hostile, and wholly untrustworthy regime from threatening states in the region and destabilising the entire international system.
The only problem with this argument, and it's only a small one... is that Iran has every right to develop nuclear technology and is not trying to develop a nuclear weapon. It is incredibly immature to talk of this issue as if it's already been decided that Iran is untrustworthy on the nuclear issue when in fact they are far more trustworthy than Israel. The IAEA seems to trust them. They decide, not the ignorant members of the public.
What do you think?