Patience Is the Best Iran Policy
The United Nations Security Council has agreed to tighten economic sanctions against Iran following Iran”s continued refusal to suspend its ongoing program of uranium enrichment. This decision follows the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that also documents the expansion of Iran”s enrichment activities. While the administration of President Bush has strongly pushed for the imposition of these new sanctions, there is good reason to question whether or not the Security Council action represents the best policy to deal with Iran”s nuclear program.
With the IAEA now able to ascertain that the Iranian explanations about both the origin and use of its enrichment program are consistent with the information available to the IAEA, there no longer remains a technical justification for demanding the suspension of Iran”s ongoing uranium enrichment activities. The IAEA has declared that it can account for all declared nuclear material in Iran and that it has adequate inspection and verification controls in place for the totality of Iran”s declared enrichment program. The IAEA notes that it does not have conclusive evidence of any proscribed activities taking place inside Iran (documents made available to the IAEA by the United States, derived from sources of questionable origin, have been rejected by the Iranians as fabrications.)
The best mechanism for achieving a level of verifiable confidence concerning Iranian nuclear activities would be the implementation of additional inspection protocols which the IAEA states are necessary for its work in Iran. Iran would likely agree to the additional protocol if the Security Council reversed its demand for the unconditional suspension of uranium enrichment. A previous offer made by Iran to the international community in March 2005 reinforces this point. The original reasoning behind the suspension of uranium enrichment was based on the IAEA”s inability to establish the scope and purpose of Iran”s uranium enrichment programs. The IAEA is now in a position to do so. There is no longer any viable technical excuse for suspension, and any continued requirements for such must be judged to be political in nature.
The current U.S. policy on Iran, as articulated by the Bush administration, centers its goals on the issue of regime change in Tehran; the nuclear dispute is simply used as a facilitator for isolating Iran economically and politically. This approach pollutes the credibility of any multilateral solution to the problem of Iran”s nuclear enrichment program endorsed by the United States, such as the current suspension demands of the Security Council, while making it virtually impossible for Iran to embrace any meaningful path toward moderation. This policy suppresses the forces of moderation and reform within the civil and theocratic branches of the Iranian government and can only lead Iran and the U.S. down a path of increased friction and probable conflict.
The next presidential administration should seek to divorce the United States from any policy seen as supporting regime change inside Iran. This could be accomplished simply by endorsing the commitment made by the U.S. in the 1980 Algiers Accord (which ended the hostage crisis) not to interfere, directly or indirectly, militarily or politically, in the internal affairs of Iran. Such a statement, backed by a decision to suspend all economic sanctions pending the implementation by Iran and the IAEA of an additional protocol of inspections (at which time the sanctions would be lifted), would help build a foundation of trust upon which further dialogue between the U.S. and Iran could be conducted. The U.S. could reiterate a zero-tolerance policy regarding the militarization of nuclear activity in Iran while allowing further policy direction to be dictated by a more natural course of events.
The lifting of economic sanctions against Iran would unshackle the forces of moderation inside that nation. Given the technical and economic shortfalls inherent in the Iranian nuclear program, there is every reason to believe that Iran would gravitate toward policies that make sense economically, such as the current offers of co-enrichment and international support put forward by both Russia and the European Union. Time, in this case, is an asset, not an enemy. Even Israel, a staunch opponent of Iran”s nuclear program, concurs that Iran is years away from having a nuclear weapon. The next president of the United States must have both the courage and the leadership to forge a new policy direction with Iran, and the patience and fortitude to allow such a policy to bear fruit.