US and EU Must Form Broad Coalition to Engage TehranKarim Sadjadpour
Only a broad coalition which includes the United States, European Union, Russia, China and India can successfully replace the West’s failed attempts to negotiate with Iran. Karim Sadjadpour, an Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stresses that Iran, like the US, is highly interested in a stable Iraqi neighbor state. This provides an opening for Western engagement, yet Tehran’s distrust of the US at present prevents possible solutions. Powerful economic and political elites in Iran hamper attempts at reconciliation, and domestic change should not be expected any time soon.
Barriers to Negotiation
The political system of the Islamic Republic has multiple power centers and is designed to withstand any external influence, giving even the Supreme Leader little real autocratic power. Ayatollah Khamenei holds the most powerful political position in Iran today, but he is nowhere near as accepted as Ayatollah Khomeini, the popular leader of the “Islamic Revolution” and subsequent “Islamic Republic” in 1979. Khomeini was powerful enough to rule despite the institutional gridlock his policies created. Khamenei, less popular and facing a number of rival factions, is not.
These checks and balances create a long and protracted decision-making process. Iran’s declining economy adds more political pressure: the country might soon become a net oil importer, despite the vast amount of oil it possesses, because of a lack of investment in energy infrastructure. Sadjadpour predicts that Iranian leadership will have to cut gasoline subsidies—alienating an already disaffected populace—and alter its policies to be more attractive to foreign investors.
- The UN Security Council should maintain external pressure on Iran’s decision-makers at the same time that the readiness for a comprehensive international dialogue is communicated to the more pragmatic elements in Tehran.
- Russia must be convinced to sign onto the coalition, as Russian support would probably result in China following its lead and presenting Iran with a united front.
- Tehran should be reassured privately that cooperation will yield positive results. The IAEA should reaffirm Iran’s right to a full fuel cycle under the condition that it will not act on this right until it has been given a ‘clean bill of health’ by the IAEA.
- The international community should offer Iran a broad agreement on re-integration (primarily into the global economy) as an incentive to alter its nuclear behavior. Part of this deal could require Iran to admit its violations and thereby acknowledge the IAEA’s authority of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
- A US roadmap outlining possible future relations in case of an Iranian policy change could constitute an additional incentive for Tehran. Outright military threats, however, would only weaken the domestic standing of those Iranian actors arguing in favor of a reconciliatory approach.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from an article by Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, which appeared in the US/ME Policy Brief.
US/ME Policy Brief, The US/Middle East Project, Inc., May 2007
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Prepared by Tobias Bock