April 1, 2007


Why the Iran Sanctions Are Working (Fareed Zakaria, 3/01/07, Newsweek)

Vali Nasr, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that "in the past, when the regime has been ready to negotiate with the world, conservative elements within have often created facts on the ground that raise tensions and make such negotiations difficult. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies are trying to defeat the moderates. This current crisis reinforces their position that the West is irredeemably hostile to Iran."

Whatever the internal politics, Iran appears to have miscalculated. Its actions will only confirm to many key countries that it is a reckless and untrustworthy state. Tehran's release of letters and a video of the British sailors making obviously coerced concessions has backfired, strengthening British resolve and European unity. A close aide to Tony Blair who asked to remain anonymous, as is customary at 10 Downing Street, expressed complete satisfaction with the growing support from other European countries. "We couldn't have asked for more," he said.

Senior Iranian officials, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject, said they believed that this matter could be resolved as a similar incident was in 2004. (Then, it did appear that a British ship might have moved into Iranian, or disputed, waters, and London apologized, gaining the release of its sailors.) The Blair aide also recalled that 2004 incident and told me, "We're not trying to make life difficult for the Iranian government on this. There is a way out with dignity for both sides. But we will not make any deals [on Iraq, or the nuclear program]." Both sides seem to understand that Britain would not formally apologize, but London could use some language that would allow Iran to climb down from its perch and release the sailors.

This episode is, in some ways, a metaphor for the broader relationship between Iran and the world. Namely, that pressure works, as long as you can help Tehran chart a way out. Iran is a prickly, nationalistic country with legitimate interests in the Middle East. It makes perfect sense to contain and curtail its efforts to go nuclear, destabilize Iraq and foment trouble in Lebanon and Palestine. But the United States should also think creatively about a way for Iran to get out of the box it is in. Sticks can work only if there are also carrots on the table.

Iran is not some brilliant and all-powerful behemoth, destined to dominate the Middle East.

The important thing is that the inevitable deal be with the Khamenei faction not the Ahmedinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 1, 2007 8:22 AM
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