Dealing With Iran
In talks with six powers in Geneva on Oct. 1, Iranian negotiators “agreed in principle to send the bulk of [their] low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France” for further processing and conversion into fuel plates for its Tehran research reactor. But Western officials said that Iran then “balked at fleshing out details in Vienna and seemed to retreat from the point of the deal hatched in Geneva — to ease suspicions of a bomb agenda in Iran raised by its record of nuclear secrecy and curbs on IAEA inspections.” Iran requested changes to the proposal that would allow the nation to send out smaller quantities of LEU. Speaking at a press conference in Morocco, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran to accept the agreement as proposed “because we are not altering it.” Russia’s envoy to Tehran, Alexander Sadovnikov, “also urged Iran to sign the fuel deal.” The United States and its partners in the P5 +1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) are currently considering whether to interpret Iran’s counter-proposal as an effective refusal. U.S. ambassador to the IAEA Glyn Davies said that the U.S. is willing to give Iran more timeto make a final decision on the proposed deal. “There have been communications back and forth,” Davies said. “We are in extra innings in these negotiations. That’s sometimes the way these things go.”
IRAN’S NUCLEAR POLITICS: The nuclear deal has become a major point of political contention among the Iranian leadership. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initially voiced support for the deal, “saying that his tough stance in past years had finally forced the West to accept implicitly Iran’s right to enrich uranium.” But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to criticize the deal, saying last Tuesday the U.S. was a “really arrogant power” and “that the Islamic state would not be deceived into reconciliation with its arch foe,” Iran state radio reported. Some were surprised when Mir Hussein Mousavi, the Iranian presidential candidate who has become the de facto leader of Iran’s Green Movement, heavily criticized the proposed nuclear deal. The New York Times suggested that Mousavi was “looking to take a page from Mr. Ahmadinejad’s own playbook, using the nuclear card to try to score political points.” But Mousavi has been a longtime supporter of Iran’s nuclear program, and of Iran’s right to domestically enrich uranium, a consensus issue among Iranians. Unfortunately, it appears that a nuclear deal may be stymied because neither of Iran’s main factions can acceptthe other being able to deliver rapprochement with the West.
EFFECTS OF OUTREACH: President Obama’s outreach to the Islamic Republic and his administration’s attempt to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through high-level negotiations represent a major plank of his foreign policy agenda. Many analysts credit Obama’s moves to lower the temperature between the two governments — his Nowruz greeting and his letters to Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei — with effectively removing the U.S. as a foil in Iran’s domestic politics. According to Patrick Disney of the National Iranian American Council, “It was only when Obama came out with a sensible plan for engagementthat Ahmadinejad and Khamenei actually felt threatened.” In the event that a nuclear deal is not reached, Obama’s approach could have the effect of fostering greater unity among leading powers and facilitating greater international pressure against Iran. Russia has thus far been opposed to sanctions, but Russian President Dmitir Medvedev recently told Germany’s Der Spiegel, “If there is no movement forward” toward a deal with Iran, “nobody is ruling out such a scenario.” Iran expert and former Obama administration adviser Ray Takeyh also wrote in the Washington Post that the U.S. should keep human rights issues on the table, and “that the persistent mistake that the West has made is to place the nuclear issue above all other concerns.”
REGIONAL IMPLICATIONS: The Iranian government’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators after the country’s controversial elections in June has had serious implications both within Iran and in the region. IranianGrand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, a prominent clerical dissident, has called upon clerics in Iran and elsewhere to oppose what he calls “Iran’s military regime.” Iran’s region reputation as standard bearer of resistance against the West has also taken damage. At a recent symposium at the University of Maryland, Stanford University Iran scholar Abbas Milani referred to a recent paper by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the seminal Islamist organization in the Middle East, which he said described the Brotherhood’s shifting view. “Before June 12, the view among the Muslim Brotherhood was to support Iran against the West’s bullying.” But according to Milani, in the wake of the regime’s oppression, “Brotherhood leaders are finding it more difficult to defend Iran.” Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, however, has been very critical of international pressure on Iran. Making a recent visit to Tehran, Erdogan — himself the head of a religiously-based Turkish political party — called Iran “our friend” and implied that European countries were prejudiced against Muslim countries like Turkey and Iran. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohammed El-Baradei recently suggested a compromise, telling interviewer Charlie Rose “that Iran’s enriched uranium could be shipped to Turkey as a means of easing U.S. and European concerns over the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear ambitions.” An anonymous Iranian source, however, said that plan wouldn’t work, saying that “It seems the IAEA chief is trying to take advantage of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s (forthcoming) visit to Turkey to gain media coverage on a closed issue.”