According to NPR, President Barack Obama recently told Congress to hold off on new sanctions against Iran in the wake of the stalling nuclear negotiations. Given that another way to give Iran some safety is with economic cooperation, the sanctions end up forcing Iran’s hand, making them more likely to pursue a nuclear weapon rather than bringing them to their knees.
Unfortunately, some members of Congress do not seem to understand this point as the Foreign Policy Journal reports. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) explained in a letter to the editor of USA Today that he was pursuing tougher sanctions against Iran to force President Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khomeini to give up Iran’s nuclear program.
The problem with this logic is that Iran will not fold economically on the back of U.S. sanctions alone. Iran is still able to export significant amounts of oil to China, a growing consumer of oil as the country expands economically. Iran is not going to fold so easily.
The call for sanctions demonstrates that the United States is not completely unified behind Obama in negotiations with Iran. The president only has power in dealing with Iran if he can show that he has enough control of the domestic political situation to ensure that any agreement with Iran can be enforced. If not, then Iran has no reason to negotiate with the United States.
The negotiations are facing similarly fractious problems because of the lack of unity within the P5+1 group running the talks. France, according to Foreign Policy, recently ended the talks and scuttled the deal to assert more control over the situation. Frankly, this is not the time for France or anyone in the international community to be playing games at the negotiating table. Rouhani has proved to be more moderate and willing to talk than any of his predecessors, and Iran is on the brink of either developing a nuclear weapon or taking meaningful steps toward giving up its nuclear program. France, by jockeying for power, is putting peace in the Middle East at risk.
Disunity even presents itself when considering nations not directly involved in this round of talks. Israel has long been critical of any course of action that leaves Iran with enough autonomy to create a nuclear weapon. Though Israel is not part of this round of talks, their presence is always felt when dealing with Iran. Israel, which is known for deploying Mossad agents to kill Iranian nuclear scientists, could escalate their military involvement to preemptively strike Iran if they believed they could destroy enough of Iran’s nuclear capabilities to prevent nuclear enrichment and bomb creation. If the talks with Iran do not stop Iran from developing a weapon, or if Israel does not agree with the course that talks are taking, they could take matters into their own hands and attempt to deal with Iran themselves. Thus, there is little reason for Iran to continue to negotiate with Western powers if they believe they are threatened by Israel, which is one of the most heavily militarized countries in the Middle East. The international community needs to be able to bring Israel in line to encourage Iran to work with the West to give up nuclear weapons. Any break from this unity threatens the talks, which threatens Israel, which threatens Iran. Disunity is a self-defeating stance for Israel.
In the same way, because Iran might be reluctant to give up nuclear weapons in the face of a possible Israeli attack, Iran might also be unwilling to give up its weapons program just because there is no enforcement of international treaties. Agreements in the world of international relations are based on reciprocity, not because of enforcement from an overarching authority. Those agreements have to be based on trust, and that trust is unlikely in a situation in which the world cannot unite behind a single tactic when dealing with Iran. The world has to unite to make any kind of agreement work with Iran. If the world does not unite, Iran will be forced to distrust any kind of arrangement and be self-sufficient for security.
The negotiations with Iran are unlikely to succeed as long as the world continues to stand apart on the issue. Dissent itself is the most likely reason to sink the current round of negotiations.
Dan Morgan-Russell is a sophomore majoring in international relations (global business). His column “Going Global” runs Mondays.
Follow Dan on Twitter @ginger_breaddan