By Michael DeZubiria
Recent calls from Congress to reinstate sanctions against Iran risk derailing the progress already made regarding the Iranian nuclear program and dragging negotiations to a halt. Sanctions against authoritarian regimes harm citizens more than governments, thus fomenting anti-American sentiment and ultimately reducing the likelihood of success. Rather than unnecessarily endangering the continuity of these historic talks, then, the US should continue to maximize the potential benefits available through diplomatic means. Continued agreements are far more likely to be facilitated by the following three options: 1) multilateral talks, 2) renewed diplomatic efforts to reduce anti-American sentiment among the Iranian public, and 3) the end of American isolation of Iran. This would involve a combination of non-military mechanisms designed to satisfy Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy needs, signifiy Washington’s goal of normalizing relations with Tehran, and ultimately draw Iran into the international community.
That disagreements have arisen in negotiations with Iran should come as no surprise. The US should respond, however, not with further economic punishment, but with renewed efforts at multilateral talks and continued negotiation. This would preserve the progress that has been made in negotiations already, while also providing a costly signal that Washington’s goal is to normalize relations with Tehran. The purpose of sanctions should remain to draw the Iranian leadership to the negotiating table. Now that this has been achieved, responding to inevitable points of contention with the immediate reinstatement of sanctions risks fracturing international coalitions and undermining US credibility. Furthermore, multilateral talks will likely assist the negotiation process by incentivizing Iran to integrate into international markets and the global economy.
It should be noted that there is little support among the Iranian public for nuclear armament, which can do nothing to improve domestic issues of unemployment, low efficiency, and a lack of ties to foreign markets. Nuclear capability can, however, improve the standard of living of Iranian citizens through improved agricultural production and medical services, and many Iranians see the United States as obstructing this. It should thus be a primary objective of the Obama administration, as well as Tehran, to facilitate the end of US sanctions. Reducing sanctions as Iran follows through on nuclear agreements would reduce anti-American sentiment within Iran and also signify that Washington is willing to make concessions when Iran follows through on their promises. It would provide the Iranian leadership with an opportunity to draw concessions from the United States, while Washington can point to measurable progress on nuclear nonproliferation with a historic adversary. Ultimately, Iran’s nuclear program could be regulated even further through its new ability to export domestically-produced nuclear power on the global market.
Effective American strategy regarding Iran’s nuclear program should emphasize other diplomatic, non-coercive actions such as multi-nationally owned and operated nuclear facilities within Iran’s borders. This would increase Iran’s international integration while also serving as a monitoring system, as all nuclear work would be subject to international inspection. Concerns about the facilities being used for military development would also be assuaged because, under international law, any military use of the facilities would be considered a seizure of other nations’ property. Iran’s energy concerns would also be addressed through the implementation of multinational mechanisms designed to ensure a steady supply of nuclear energy to nations with peaceful nuclear energy programs.
Effective policy should ultimately further the intentions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of the late 1960s. This would involve multilateral and diplomatic talks with the goal of granting Iran the freedom to pursue nuclear energy, while at the same time defining parameters of acceptable nuclear activities. It is clear that nuclear negotiations with Iran are a delicate process fraught with potential failure, but it is also true that the value of progress already made far outweighs the benefit of increased sanctions. Diplomacy thus remains the best option to continue progress with Iran and avoid compromising the possibility of success at this early stage. Long-term diplomatic goals should include internationally owned nuclear facilities within Iran, increased integration of Iran into the global community, and legtimization of Iranian nuclear energy through its inclusion in the global market. By doing this, the United States could facilitate improved relations with Iran and greater progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
Michael DeZubiria is a Master's Candidate in International Politics at the UC San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. Please feel free to direct any questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.