Paulo Casaca is founder of the Brussels based international co-operation association ARCHumankind, “Alliance to Renew Co-operation among Humankind”, and the “Euro Reform Initiative”
As the Iranian Islamic Republic marks its thirty sixth anniversary, the US administration makes ever more clear its will to reach a nuclear deal with Iran at any cost.
According to the Washington Post editorial board, in spite of the fact it habitually defends the talks and shuts down objections to them, the latest proposal from US negotiators “raises major concerns” about the probable consequences of inking an agreement along those lines.
The apparent change of heart comes in response to reports indicating that the US is on the verge of allowing Iran to keep all or nearly all of its currently operational uranium enrichment centrifuges. The goalposts for an agreement have already been moved at least once. The Obama administration started the negotiating process a year ago with the demand that Iran reduce its stockpile of centrifuges to about 2000, but later more than doubled that figure to 4,500.
Tehran has shown none of that sort of flexibility. Its proposal today is the same as it was at the beginning: Iran will give up none of its centrifuges over the short term, and will reserve the right to dramatically increase its enrichment capability within a few years after the signing of a final agreement.
We have a serious problem on our hands if this is as far as we can get with Tehran. And the problem is all the more serious if the US proves willing to let it go at that, essentially betraying the entire premise behind bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.
Why would we do that? Well, many of Obama’s critics on this issue, including a surprising number of democratic congressmen, worry that it is because the president has mistakenly conceptualized Iran as an island of stability in the sea of volatility that is the Middle East. Indeed, a previous upsurge in criticism of the president came late last year when it was revealed that he had written at least three personal letters to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisting that Iran and the US have common interests and suggesting that the two should partner together in order to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The only way this could be justifiable is if Iran’s stability was not so interwoven with its government’s repressive strength, as wielded both at home and abroad. As it is, this is not like a partnership with another stable democracy, or even with the US’s established allies in the region. Instead, it reflects a policy that says, according to Michael Doran in an editorial in Mosaic Magazine, “To rid the world of rogues and tyrants, one must embrace and soften them.”
This is a fallacy that history proved repeatedly wrong! The embrace of tyranny, theocracy and extremism is fundamentally counter to our values. And not only is it cynically unprincipled; it is painfully impractical. Just consider what our embrace of Iran’s dictatorial leadership has gotten us:
The situation in Iraq and Syria has gotten worse, not better. Iran’s constant presence on the regional battlefields has made local forces subservient to a loose collective of Shiite militias. These may now be fighting ISIL, but they are doing so using the same terror technics as this organisation, turning the entire Middle East into a breeding ground for sectarianism, which encourages recruitment of militants on both sides of the divide.
And that promotion of sectarianism hasn’t been confined to Iraq and Syria by any stretch of the imagination. Just days ago, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen dissolved the countries parliament, delivering what is presumably the penultimate blow to a stable, pro-Western government in the region, which US forces had been using as a base of operations in an ongoing fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, widely considered to be the most dangerous Al Qaeda offshoot.
In series of events that serve almost as a metaphor for what has been going on elsewhere in the region, the ascendance of the Houthi as a competitor to AQAP has actually led to an increase in local terrorist attacks and reprisals by both groups. Meanwhile, missiles and gunfire have been newly exchanged between Israel and Hezbollah, stemming from Iran/Hezbollah joint efforts to take up positions in the Golan Heights, on Israel’s border.
The Washington Post editorial board acknowledged last week that among other “major concerns” about the Obama administration’s approach to nuclear negotiations, critics have called attention to its apparent unwillingness to confront Iran about any of its aggressive expansions into surrounding territories.
It seems clear that, far from contributing to stability in the Middle East, the administration’s soft approach to Iran threatens to spread instability. Perhaps worse still, this policy has helped to reinforce Tehran’s tenuous hold on power, giving it legitimacy and financial rewards in spite of its non-compromise on the nuclear issue, despite the weakening influence of economic sanctions, despite the disaffection of the Iranian people, and despite the organized, international opposition to the regime.
In light of the rising tide of criticism, I remain hopeful that President Obama and his advisors may yet come to understand that the “island of stability” is a myth and that any attempt to ground ourselves with Iran will only result in us drowning in an increasingly turbulent Middle East.
If the president cannot be convinced of this, it will fall to the US Congress to push back against conciliatory gestures legitimizing tyranny. Senate Democrats already gave the president a wide berth when they agreed to delay voting on a new Iran sanctions bill until after the deadline for a framework nuclear agreement in March. I would urge them not to stand down for any longer than that, and to keep up alternative forms of pressure in the meantime, so as not to allow Tehran to make the world a still more dangerous place.