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US: From Sanctions to War against Iran?


Kenneth Katzman: Certainly, as long as the floor is open for talks, there is always a hope for a deal.  But I think, from the US standpoint, the United States is certainly not counting on a deal.  Obviously, the thrust of US policy, I think, is starting to shift, from a focus on getting a deal to a focus on perhaps dealing with some sort of a post-Islamic Republic.  There is a growing — I think — belief inside the US government that the regime is in very, very serious trouble and that it is now possible to envision a post-Islamic Republic government.  So the chessboard has become more complicated.  Last year was a very binary process: the international community and the Iranian government.  Now there is a new element that is being calculated, which is the democratic opposition. . . .

Seyed Mohammad Marandi: First, I’d like to correct what in my opinion needs to be corrected, and that is that it’s not the international community, it’s basically Western powers.  Otherwise, the Non-Aligned Movement, which consists of a majority of the world’s countries, supports Iran’s nuclear program.  But I think there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the Islamic Republic of Iran is here to stay.  It’s more stable inherently than any of the US allies in the region.  And I think that it is really time for some sort of accountability among so-called Iran experts in Washington because such claims as have been made just now I have heard repeated often over the past few months, and I think that, perhaps in a year’s time we should go look over and see who said what and we will discover how credible these claims are.  Without a doubt, the Iranian government will continue to pursue a peaceful nuclear program. . . .  I think what is important to know is that Iran is a sovereign country and it will not accept deadlines.  All sovereign countries obviously would take a similar position.  But what is interesting is that from the very start the Iranians actually unclenched their fists as it were, and they were willing to do a deal: they were willing to import enriched uranium at 20% instead of producing it in Iran, which they can, in order to create a more favorable atmosphere so that the negotiation could come to some sort of positive conclusion.  The problem, though, lies on the American side and its allies.  In fact they kept their hands clenched, and they demanded that Iran should give up its own enriched uranium at 3.5% and send it outside of the country first and then wait for Western powers to give them enriched uranium at 20% in return.  The Iranians, of course, with the history that they have with the Western countries, they just don’t trust them, so the Iranians are saying that we should exchange Iranian enriched uranium for 20%-enriched uranium at the border. . . .

Flynt Leverett: I think Professor Marandi made a couple of very important points.  That is, the whole issue about how the so-called Tehran Research Reactor might be refueled started because, many months ago, Iran went to the International Atomic Energy Agency and said: we’re gonna need to refuel this thoroughly safeguarded reactor and we’d appreciate your helping us deal with international providers to do so.  It was the United States that came back with the plan basically to have Iran send most of its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium out of the country, basically in return for some future promise of finished fuel.  Now, Iran has in fact made a counter-proposal, a counter-proposal that would entail finished fuel being delivered upfront and having the Iranian low-enriched uranium sent out of Iran in installments, rather than in a single batch.  If the United States really wants a deal on refueling the Tehran Research Reactor, there is a deal to be had, but it is going to require negotiation, compromise, and coming to some sort of neutral understanding.  But, as far as I can tell, the Obama administration is continuing to insist that all of the Iranian uranium come out, upfront, in one batch, and there is a future promise of finished fuel in return.  I don’t think it’s gonna be a workable basis for a deal for the reasons that Professor Marandi cited. . . .

Imran Garda: While we’re all are on the subject of possible war, Flynt Leverett, do you think that that is very far away, any military option is actually off the table as things stand?

Flynt Leverett: I think it’s not going to happen today, tomorrow, next week, next month.  What worries me — and I would take a different view than Kenneth Katzman does about the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s policies — I think that their attempts at engagement have been very non-specific and half-hearted and have not appeared very credible in the Iranian eyes.  I would also argue that what they’re doing in terms of sanctions is a feckless exercise.  Yes, China and Russia have supported three sanctions resolutions before, but, as Ken well knows, they have taken the original drafts of those resolutions as prepared by the United States with its European allies and essentially gutted them because they do not wish to support really serious sanctions against Iran.  It may be possible that at some point down the road we get another sanctions resolution, but Russia and China will make sure that those sanctions which are authorized by the [Security] Council, if any additional ones are authorized, will not impede their interests with Iran.  And that means you’re not gonna get serious sanctions by the Security Council, you’re not gonna get serious sanctions on a coalition-of-the-willing basis — it is a feckless exercise.  And if you don’t have serious diplomacy, if sanctions are feckless, then the next thing that is going to come are more coercive options like military force.  Ultimately, if we don’t develop a serious policy for engaging Iran, I’m afraid that that is where the United States might well be headed, towards some kind of military confrontation.

Kenneth Katzman is a Middle East Affairs analyst with the Congressional Research Service.  Flynt Leverett directs the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow.  Additionally, he teaches at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs.  Seyed Mohammad Marandi is the head of North American Studies at Tehran University.  This episode of Inside Story was aired by Al Jazeera on 18 January 2010.  The text above is an edited partial transcript of the video.

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