Opinion

The Great Debate

What does Iran want?

By Daniel Serwer
February 16, 2012

Dennis Ross, until recently in charge of Iran in the Obama White House, has outlined why he thinks strengthened sanctions have created an environment in which diplomacy may now work to block Tehran’s development of nuclear weapons. At the same time, it is being reported that Iran has finally responded to a European Union letter requiring that renewed talks focus specifically on ensuring that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

These are important developments, but they leave out half the equation. What can Iran hope to get from nuclear talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China — plus Germany? Iran will certainly seek relief from sanctions, which have become truly punishing. But they will want more.

It is clear that Tehran’s first priority is an end to American efforts at regime change. This is not an issue Americans know or think much about, but it obsesses the Iranians. They believe that Washington has tried to bring about regime change in Tehran for decades. Iranian officials can entertain you for hours with stories about American (and Israeli) assistance to Azeri, Baloch and Kurdish rebels. The Arab Spring uprisings took their inspiration in part from Iran’s own “Green Movement,” which protested fraud in the 2009 presidential elections before being brutally repressed. While some in Congress view President Obama as insufficiently supportive of the Greens, the regime in Tehran thought the Americans were behind the whole movement.

The nuclear program, in addition to beefing up Iran’s military muscle and regional prestige, is also intended to end attempts at regime change, as it is thought in Tehran that the U.S. will not attack a nuclear weapons state for fear of the consequences. To those looking for it, there is ample supporting evidence: Witness the contrast between North Korea, a severely repressive regime that has obtained nuclear weapons, and Libya, which gave up its nuclear efforts and suffered a NATO air war that brought about regime change.

So the question becomes this: Will the Americans be prepared to take regime change off the table if the Iranians are prepared to give ironclad and verifiable assurances that their nuclear program is entirely peaceful? The answer to that question is not obvious. While it is barely possible to picture Washington recognizing Tehran and re-establishing diplomatic relations after a 32-year hiatus, it is far harder to picture a bilateral agreement promising mutual noninterference in internal affairs. Certainly an agreement of that sort would not find ready approval in Congress.

Another key question is whether the U.S. is prepared to accept Iran holding on to sensitive nuclear technology, in particular, uranium enrichment, even if Tehran can use that technology only under tight international controls. Many countries have this arrangement: No one took uranium enrichment or reprocessing technology away from Argentina and Brazil when they mutually agreed to back off the development of nuclear weapons. Japan, South Korea, Sweden and many others are presumably no more than a couple of years (and probably far less) away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran, however, is not Sweden. It isn’t even North Korea, a country far more readily sanctioned and bribed back into line and unable to produce more than a few relatively primitive atomic bombs. Iran, once it has the capacity to enrich uranium to bomb grade (90 percent or more), will be no more than a few years from getting an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In the meanwhile, it will presumably continue to develop and deploy longer-range missiles that could target Israel and Europe, if not the U.S. Can the United States, and Israel, live with that short a fuse?

The hard choices in dealing with Iran on nuclear issues are not only up to the Iranians. There are hard choices for the U.S. as well.

PHOTO: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures as he walks toward his car after his arrival at a military base in Rawalpindi, February 16, 2012. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Comments
10 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Is’nt there a U.N. to be the world police? We aren’t exactly policing our own people fairly yet we get in everyone elses business.

Posted by 508rooster | Report as abusive
 

“it is far harder to picture a bilateral agreement promising mutual noninterference in internal affairs.”

Of course, Prof. Serwer must certainly be aware that such an accord already exists, having been signed in 1980 and is still “supposedly” in effect.

The US and its politicians (and it seems at least some of its academics) are painfully ignorant of the recent mutual history of Iran and US and some of the lessons that could be drawn from it. For example, take the issue of Oil Embargo. Great Britain, with collaboration of US, embargoed Iran’s Oil in 1953. The reason was to put enough economic pressure on Iran’s nationalist and democratically (the horror) elected Prime Minister and to force his government to collapse. When the government did not fall just because of the embargo, it did fall with an orchestrated coup by CIA and MI6.

Needless to say, at that time, there was no issue of nuclear technology. The issue back then, and today, is that the US/GB axis cannot tolerate independence in a country sitting on so much energy resources.

Of course, as history shows, there was a bit of blow back in the form of a revolution that toppled the US puppet regime and brought into power a hard-line government. The current leaders of Iran did take the appropriate lesson from the 1953 oil embargo and subsequent coup. The lesson is: the US/GB axis is not interested in democracy, human right, stability, etc. It is only interested in low cost access to the region’s energy resources. All these other issues are a fig leaf to cover their main goal, a compliant regime that will do their bidding, both in Iran and regionally.

That is why there are only two ways out of this conundrum:
a) The American people waking up and electing leaders that will protect their interests, not the interests of the oil companies and the military-industry complex. This is highly unlikely since they are not given the historical information needed to realize what is being done in their name. Hard to blame them if even their professors seem somewhat ignorant of recent history.

b) A regime change in Iran where a compliant puppet government is installed, which seems to be the main goal of US, all previously signed accords be damned. This is also somewhat unlikely, at least through an embargo or economic sanctions.

In a saner world, US would engage Iran, trade with it, would receive tourists, receive visiting professors, and send in its professors. In short it would engage in full cultural and economic exchange. It would know that Iran needs to sell her oil and left to her own devices would transform into a much more democratic society. If it can be done with communist China, it surely can be done with Iran.

Posted by TheGaines | Report as abusive
 

It’s very interesting that so many are willing to talk about potential “agreements” when, in fact, it was after a grand agreement with North Korea, struck by Jimmy Carter during the Clinton years, that North Korea then went on to producing nuclear weapons. That agreement may have made people feel good, and got the Clinton administration off the hook at that moment, but it did nothing to actually solve the problem. Calling that entire episode a sad farce would be too kind. Of course, what we learned, ironically, is that the value of any agreement is closely related to the value and substance behind the participating regime. Let’s default to rule #1 first and foremost: Garbage in, garbage out. Perhaps an agreement with Iran is what we should all fear the most.

Posted by Thucydides | Report as abusive
 

@TheGaines,

“The US/GB axis is not interested in democracy, human right, stability, etc. It is only interested in low cost access to the region’s energy resources.”

Yeah, right. That’s why America and its allies warned Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait. He invaded that country without provocation, and appeared to be setting up for permanent occupation. Has we not thrown him out, the road would have been open for him to establish effective control over much of middle east oil.

Well, over time, we “won” in Iraq. Saddam is gone, as are all of his henchmen. Has Iraq paid back one dollar of our expenses? Will they ever? Do we have any “lower cost” access to Iraqi or middle eastern oil than before we invaded? NO!

Our oil companies don’t care what oil costs. They are, in the end, merchants and middlemen who will pay the worldwide “going price”, refine it, and put an appropriate markup on the final products. The higher the price of oil, the sooner other sources of energy become economically viable and reduce American dependence on a bunch of countries and people who fundamentally hate western democracies and all that we stand for.

You would have loved Neville Chamberlain! Hitler certainly did.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

TheGains; Your comment may be driving up the price of tin foil. But I’m sure the “US/GB axis” has that fixed too, right?

Posted by CapitalismSays | Report as abusive
 

@ TheGaines

- good comment, untainted by partisan influence and CIA-denials

Posted by scyth3 | Report as abusive
 

What would be the reaction of the American people if a foreign power was committed to “regime change” here? Would we not see that country as an enemy? Why would anyone expect another country to react differently?

Iran is not our friend. Iran is not our colony. Iran is also not our dependency. Our history with the Iranian people is largely one of hostility.

To understand our policy toward Iran, one must understand that our Government cares little for the interests of the American People. We are here to fund and obey them. Iran is simply another piece in the puzzle of anti-Islamic policy. Why is that our policy? A very good question indeed. Generally that is answered by denying that it is our policy. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it might just be one.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

To ‘One of The Sheep’
Well said my friend. Im tired of hearing the same lines as it relates to the US foreign policy in the middle east. If were there for the cheap oil, where is our one trillion dollars we spent invading Iraq. Protecting the flow of oil is not just about ‘cash in the pockets of oil companies’ its about the free flow of oil at market prices. Every job in America is somehow related to petroleum. To have just one nut disrupt the oil market could be as devastating as an nuclear attack. Are we there because of the oil… of course we are! And thank God we are. At least one country has the balls to stand up to these thugs

Posted by flyboiy | Report as abusive
 

@flyboiy: “At least one country has the balls to stand up to these thugs”.

And your means of ‘standing up against these thugs’ is to murder over 1’000’000 civilians a decade?

We’re endowed with brains for a reason…

Posted by Life1 | Report as abusive
 

There is no way out of this dilemma. Iran will want the right to enrich uranium, for whatever purposes. Any nation with as rich a history as Iran’s would be infuriated by some upstart like the US, not to mention the British, both of whom have a terrible track record in the region, lording it over them and telling them what they can and can’t do. And whoever is behind the little games going on in Iran now regarding the assassination of scientists and the release of computer viruses targeting their nuclear facilities, in the end the Iranians will not give up, so it merely pushes the event down the road. But in the process it infuriates the Iranians like a fly when they have no fly swatter. When they finally do get the flyswatter, i.e, the ability to enrich uranium, there will be so much hatred for the US and Israel that they will be targets. Maybe they already are. But the US and Israel can’t ‘drop the big one’ because of the precious oil and because the consequences would annihilate the world. Going in and taking out their nuclear facilities will ensure that someday, there will be payback. What they can’t build for themselves they can surely buy.

The only chance we have to end the mess in the Middle East is to make oil worthless, to make a new energy product that reduces oil to the status of an old black and white television. I would like to say that the US is the nation that is best poised to do that, but sadly it seems too worried about who is having sex with whom to think about things like renewable energy so it will probably be China or India or some other country less obsessed with the meaningless. But whoever does do it can reasonably hold the title of ‘biggest balls in the known universe’ for quite some time.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive
 

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