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Talking to Iran has helped the US
Talking to Iran has helped the US
Critics argue that the recent International Atomic Energy Agency report proves that the Obama administration's policy of engagement has been a waste of time, allowing Iran to make progress toward a bomb without feeling the pain of tougher sanctions
Tuesday, March 9,2010 22:30
by # Samuel Charap and Brian Katulis Guardian

 This myopic view however, ignores the fact that engagement has created an unprecedented international consensus on the need for coercive action.

By offering an outstretched hand directly to Tehran, the Obama administration clearly exposed the Iranian regime's erratic behaviour to the rest of the world and legitimised its eventual move to pursue punitive measures. President Obama's direct outreach to the Iranian people in a series of speeches and media appearances sent the message that the US wants to move beyond what in his Cairo speech he called the "tumultuous history" between the two countries. Concrete offers to support a civilian nuclear programme, such as the proposal earlier this month to help Iran purchase medical isotopes on the international market, deprived Iran of excuses for its behaviour. These steps also garnered additional support for US leadership on Iran from other countries.

The engagement policy has also improved ties with Russia, "resetting" the bilateral relationship and creating an atmosphere that allowed for productive, substantive dialogue with Moscow on Iran. And Russia has played a highly constructive role in the past year. Moscow came forward with the proposal to have Iran send most of its low-enriched uranium abroad in return for enriched fuel rods for its medical reactor, an idea that Tehran initially accepted at talks in Geneva last October. It has also indefinitely put off the planned sale of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, which would have destabilised an already volatile regional security environment. Most recently, as seen in the consistent drumbeat of statements by senior Russian officials, Moscow appears ready to support sanctions at the United Nations. This stance represents a significant policy shift for the Kremlin.

While Russia's actions are in part a reaction to Iran's continued intransigence, the Obama administration's diplomacy played a crucial role in garnering Moscow's co-operation on this issue. Obama's outreach opened up high-level channels that allowed the US to make the case for increasing the pressure on Iran.

Such discussions would have been unimaginable in the final months of the Bush administration, when relations with Moscow verged on outright confrontation. The two countries were incapable of even discussing Iran, let alone reaching agreement on joint actions. While the final test of the Russians' willingness to co-operate will come when discussions on sanctions get underway in the UN security council, their behaviour so far shows that engagement can pay major dividends.

The administration has also solidified relations with other key partners on the Iran issue. When Obama took office, there was little confidence in US leadership throughout the Middle East, thanks to the Bush administration's policies, in particular its bungled handling of the war in Iraq. The Obama administration moved quickly to strengthen ties, including by enhancing bilateral defence co-operation with key Arab allies and holding joint military exercises in the Persian Gulf.

The reinvigorated relationships in the region were a prerequisite for the success of the diplomatic surge earlier this month by senior administration officials, including secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs, to garner support for the shift to a coercive approach to the Iranian nuclear issue. Again the engagement policy set the stage for building a consensus on the need for sanctions and ensuring co-operation to effectively implement them once passed.

Additional sanctions will of course still depend on China, and Beijing has thus far stated that it has no intention of supporting such a move at the UN. But the steady and continuous diplomatic engagement that helped bring Russia and Iran's neighbours in the Middle East on board has also had the effect of isolating China on this issue. And the Chinese have traditionally been unwilling to be an outlier at key moments in international politics.

In short, Obama's worldwide diplomatic outreach, the centerpiece of his foreign policy, is beginning to deliver results. By taking advantage of the relationships it has meticulously rebuilt, the administration was able to rapidly secure international support for the shift to a coercive approach on Iran. Its emphasis on collaboration and shared responsibilities constructed a new foundation for global security co-operation, which will extend beyond reining in Iran's nuclear programme. In little over a year, the engagement policy has revived America's influence and leverage and created a diplomatic infrastructure that will make America more secure.


tags: Iran / International Atomic Energy Agency / Obama Administration / Iranian People / US leadership / Engagement Policy
Posted in Iran  
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