Monday, June 17, 2013

A Moderate Leader in Iran?

A "landslide" victory for a "moderate leader" as President of Iran means nothing in terms of American fantasies that democracy is just waiting to bust out in the Middle East and Central Asia.  The election of incoming President Hassan Rowhani is more a matter of style over substance.

However, a quote attributed to Mr. Rowhani seems like a clear public, diplomatic signal,
"The Iranian nation has done nothing to deserve sanctions. The works it has done has been within international frameworks. If sanctions have any benefits, it will only benefit Israel. It has no benefits for others," he said."
Leave aside that the first two statements are probably not true, and they merely represent the consistent Iranian position articulated in a more bellicose way, during the tenure of outgoing President Ahmadinejad.   What is important in this signal is that the issue of sanctions is of pre-eminent interest to Iran and they are back on the table for negotiation.

Sanctions have hamstrung the ambitions of clerical leaders and their civilian appointees.  They have also negatively impacted the general population, being a blunt instrument.  Having proven the point and taken their toll, any rational Iranian government would like to see sanctions loosened or abolished.

America, as some knowledgeable observers have noted, needs to sit down at the table for a long, protracted, frustrating, back and forth discussion about what we would trade for the removal of specific sanctions.  What exactly do are we willing to give in exchange for what from the Iranians?  An end to the enrichment program is really and truly off the table, from the Iranian perspective.  Can we live with this?

Thinking back to the Israeli Prime Minister's presenting of a comic poster of a ticking Wile E. Coyote bomb to the United Nations, it would seem unlikely that Israel would support any change to the current position that Iran's nuclear enrichment program must unilaterally end.  Are we still going to bind ourselves to this argument?

Something has been put on the table, and the incoming President doesn't take office until August.  There's plenty of time for some real hard, pragmatic thinking among America and its allies of how to perhaps begin meaningful negotiations with a new "moderate leader."

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