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Is Iran sincere? Is the U.S.?

Perhaps to everyone's surprise, Iran's President Rouhani sounds like he wants to make a deal. President Obama seems like he is willing to talk about it. But as Stephen Walt points out there will be naysayers on all sides if anything comes of these friendly gestures. He underlines the fact that the sanctions put into place to bring Iran around seem to be having their intended effect, and that the U.S. would be foolish to retreat before its own strategy.

Walt writes: "Does this mean a deal is in the offing? I don't know. I think one can be confident that this is a genuine opportunity: Iran's current leaders are sincere in wanting a deal, and they aren't just pretending to be nice in order to hoodwink us. But they aren't pushovers either, and a willingness to bargain in good faith doesn't mean they won't bargain hard. The United States and Iran may begin direct discussions and explore lots of options, yet ultimately end up unable to cut a deal. That effort will be complicated by the opposition from hard-liners on both sides...."

"My guess is that Rouhani will have an easier time than Obama will, in part because Obama will face potent opposition from Israel, its supporters in the United States, and countries like Saudi Arabia. These actors would rather keep Washington and Tehran at odds forever, and it's a safe bet that they will do everything they can to run out the clock and thwart this latest attempt to turn a corner in the troubled U.S. relationship with Iran. Obama ignored them in the recent Syrian affair, but it took a Hail Mary from Russia to get him out of the box he had been painted into...."  [MOS: I presume Walt means a Hail Mary Pass.]

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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The relationship between Iran and the USA is complicated. The US likes to use Iran as its foil to justify its imperial reach and Iran likes to play up the opposition to US as a means to consolidate the people and frustrate any kind of meaningful opposition and reform.

I suspect that the sanctions are having an economic effect and that this, more than any kind of new found striving for peace, is what is animating Rouhnai.

At the same time, Americans are smart and are not going to get neo-conned again. Once the facts are examined it is obvious that Iran has every right to pursue a peaceful, nuclear, energy program and there is little to no evidence that they are pursuing a military object.

Obama understands this very well and his interest is a stable region that will ensure stable oil prices, production and movement.

Ignore the background noise from the Israeli lobby in the US and the pro-militarists rah- rah- rah types.

This is a time for rational, mature, clear, realpolitik and I suspect that Obama intuitively understands that even though he hasn't really articulated a realpolitik type foreign policy. 

Stephen Walt is a comic figure.  For years, he has been denouncing the sanctions-backed-by-credible-threat-of-force regime as doomed to failure and denouncing so-called “hardliners,” domestic and foreign, for advocating it. 

According to Walt, if Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons at all, which he doubted, it was doing so because of the sanctions regime.  If we only removed this threat (aka deterrence), Iran would feel less threatened and end its nuclear weapons program on its own.  Fat chance.  Iran’s nuclear weapons program doesn’t exist because of the sanctions regime.  The sanctions regime exists because of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Now, in his latest piece, referenced above, without blinking an eye, Walt says, “They [the “hardliners”] have been saying for years that only sustained outside pressure will get Iran to "say uncle." So the United States and the European Union have ramped up sanctions and made repeated threats to use force. Surprise, surprise: Iran's new leaders are now saying they want a deal, precisely the response that this pressure was supposed to produce.”

He nowhere alludes to his many predictions that this pressure would never produce the result that he now says it has produced.  Its as though this was never his position, as though he has scrubbed it from history.

It seems that for Walt, “hardliners” are ever dangerous and never right.  Even when they are.  And Walt’s positions, if wrong, never existed.  Even if they did.

As for whether Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program, the U.N. Security Council (including Russia and China) has issued a series of a half-dozen or so resolutions approving the sanctions regime and making it more rigorous. The International Atomic Energy Agency has issued report after report accusing Iran of lying to it and hiding large portions of its nuclear development program.  And the U.S., the E.U. and most of the world has joined in enforcing the sanctions against Iran. 

This is hardly a neocon fantasy foisted on a gullible world.  Just as the Assad regime’s possession and use of chemical weapons wasn’t a fantasy notwithstanding Bashar Assad’s denials.


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