Trita Parsi: Reckless talk of war with Iran makes confrontation a probability

 

 

The temperature between the West and Iran has increased dramatically. Escalation by both sides coupled with a reckless discourse that has normalised the idea of war have created an environment where military confrontation is a rising probability. The next escalatory step pondered by Europe - in the midst of its own economic crisis - is a total embargo on Iranian oil. An idea that a few months ago was considered a non-starter  now has an air of inevitability.

Sanctions are rarely effective. But right before their imposition - at the moment where they remain a withdrawable threat - their effectiveness is at their height. The challenge with multilateral sanctions, however, is that the diplomatic resources required to create concensus around sanctions are so great that once the sanctions threat gains momentum, the commitment of the sanctioning countries to this path tends to become irreversible. Rather than utilising the threat of sanctions to compel a change in policy, they tend to confuse the means with the goal. Backing down from the threat becomes too costly so sanctions become unstoppable - and ineffective.

This is what happened in May 2010 when the Obama administration and the EU opted for a new round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran even though Tehran at the last moment succumbed to Western demands on a fuel swap offer. 

The Obama administration's limited diplomacy with Iran in October 2009 was centered on a fuel swap aimed at getting 1,200kg of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) out of Iran in return for fuel pads for a medical research reactor and by that create greater political space for continued talks. But political infighting in Iran and Iranian demands for mechanisms that would guarantee that the fuel would be delivered caused the diplomacy to fall short.

Though the West recognised that the deal had fallen victim to internal politics in Iran, the US and the EU abandoned diplomacy and returned to the sanctions track by November 2009. But resistance from Russia and China was stiff and a new resolution could not be adopted early Spring 2010 as they had hoped. Far greater diplomatic resources and time had to be invested to win China and Russia's buy-in.

Moscow and Beijing were not the only obstacles. Turkey and Brazil, who also served on the UN Security Council at the time, believed that diplomacy could still be resurrected. With Washington's half-hearted blessing, the two states embarked on their own mediation effort in order to get Iran to yes.

With a letter in hand from Obama declaring Washington's desire to see 1,200kg of Iranian Low Enriched Uranium put in escrow in Turkey, the Brazilians and Turks headed to Tehran for an 18-hour marathon negotiation. The West did not expect them to be successful, after all, the Iranians were not interested in a deal, White House officials believed.  Still, Turkey and Brazil needed to experience failure on their own in order for them to come onboard with sanctions.

After two days of talks, Brazil and Turkey shocked the West - they had an agreement. These two up and coming states had succeeded where the US and the EU powers had failed for years. Though some facts had changed on the ground, the deal - the Tehran Declaration - followed the benchmarks of the US proposal from only six months earlier and the guidelines listed in Obama's letter to the leaders of Turkey and Brazil.

But rather than viewing this as the diplomatic breakthrough the West had sought in October 2009, it was viewed as a deceptive Iranian trick. Unbeknownst to Turkey and Brazil, Obama had secured Russia and China's approval for sanctions only a day before the talks in Tehran began. Almost without reflection, Sectary of State Hillary Clinton gave the agreement the death knell, declaring in the US Senate that Washington's response was to adopt a sanctions resolution at the UN, while adding that this diplomatic efforts had made “the world more dangerous.”

The British viewed the agreement as a “distraction.” Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told me that it was a “blatant ploy” by Iran and that Turkey and Brazil had been taken for a ride. Connecting the agreement with the UN vote in a negative way, a senior EU official told me that “If you look at the timing of the Tehran Declaration, it was done at the eve of the vote. Is that a very credible sign? ... The P5 didn't want any monkey business at that time.”

The sanctions momentum had become too great - the lure of the sanctions trumped the diplomatic breakthrough it ostensibly was supposed to bring about. Once concencus on sanctions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council had been reached, it was deemed more valuable than a nuclear opening.

Now the EU is about to repeat this mistake. One the one hand, the EU is aggressively moving forward with an oil embargo - a step that a senior EU official explained to me as the last step short of war. On the other hand, a new round of talks is in the making.

Sceptics will argue that the Iranians are only coming to the table due to the sanctions pressure and that their aim is to undo the sanctions momentum. This is an astonishing statement. After all, the official objective of the sanctions are to get Iran back to the table.

If a new round of talks take place, there should be little doubt that negotiations will be tough. The divide between the two sides has grown as a result of the mutual escalation. And political space for the kind of sustained diplomacy needed to produce a breakthrough is in short supply in the US, Iran and the EU. Rather than a negotiation, we are likely to see yet another exchange of ultimatums. But if the EU repeats the mistake of 2010 and lets its mistrust overtake its judgement and imposes an oil embargo prior to the next meeting, then diplomacy will likely be dead on arrival. 

Trita Parsi is the author of A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering