By Seyed Hossein Mousavian and Shahir Shahidsaless. This article was first published on Gulf News.
The window of opportunity is as wide or as narrow for the US and the world powers as it is for Rouhani
The strategic thinking of many analysts and policy-makers in the US, as described by President Barack Obama is that, “If you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact, you can strike a deal [with Iran].”
The notion that threats and intimidation by the US effects positive outcomes and decisions from Iran’s government is flawed. However, western reliance upon this ideology is the primary reason for today’s state of Iran-US relations.
As a foreign policy insider for three decades, one of this article’s authors submits that US threats, and those of any other entity have never been cause for change in Iran’s foreign policy.
On the contrary, Iran defines its political system as independent from outside powers — of most significance, the US. This has been the case throughout the revolution and remains a focal priority, even as Iran seeks reconciliation with the West.
This edict of independence arises not only from Iran’s rich culture, but its resistance to outside pressure also stems from its system of theocracy. Ultimately, if Iran governed its state out of fear from US threats, then further threats would beget further concessions, costing Iran’s Islamic government its identity and independence.
Historical analysis evidences that once Iran sets a goal, it accomplishes its goal despite external pressure and obstacles. For example, since the Iranian Revolution, all of the world’s powers unanimously opposed Iran’s development of peaceful nuclear technology. During the 1980s and 1990s, the West imposed a variety of pressure tactics on Iran, led by the US.
Despite these cautionary measures, when Mohammad Al Baradei, the IAEA director came to Iran in early 2003, he and the rest of the world learnt that Tehran has been able to master a complete uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.
Another example demonstrating tenacity in the face of western resistance is that of Iran’s missile capability. During Iraq’s invasion of Iran 1980-88, with the full support of the western powers, Saddam Hussain launched hundreds of missiles killing and injuring thousands of civilians.
Then Iran decided to master missile technology to defend itself. The West did everything it could to impede the acquisition of materials and knowledge that would enable Iran to develop technology for missile capability. And again, despite these pressures, Iran mastered the technology of building missiles.
Similarly, with respect to conventional arms, the West and the East supported Saddam with full range of conventional arms during invasion of Iran which sought to bring regime change and disintegrate Iran. Furthermore, one of the first sanctions imposed on Iran by the US was against Iran’s procurement and import of conventional arms. These developments led Iran to decide to develop its own defence industries.
These examples illustrate that when Iran decides to accomplish a goal, its unyielding determination often accomplishes the goal, despite pressure and opposition from the West. Iran’s decision to avoid building weapons of mass destruction, of all kinds, is not because of the US threats and pressure.
If Iran had in fact made the decision to develop nuclear weapons, the notion that pressure and even the use of force might prevent Iran from accomplishing this fails to hold up in consideration of prior achievements.
When with the full backing of the West, Saddam killed or injured about 100,000 Iranians using chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war; Iran never reciprocated with chemical weapons amd never pursued the development of such weapons. This demonstrates that if Iran decides not to pursue a goal – be it in deference to religious beliefs or otherwise — then it will not do so, even in light of extreme circumstances such as war.
Rouhani’s ascent to president of Iran presents yet another opportunity for the West to reach a diplomatic solution over Iran’s nuclear dispute.
His political experience as the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council for 16 years, headed the Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s parliament for eight years, Iran’s chief negotiator with the EU3 from 2003-05 and having served for 23 years as Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative on the National Security Council until he was elected as president; lends itself to the potential for successful negotiations over nuclear dispute and beyond with the world powers and beyond.
The implication by some American analysts that Rouhani’s time is limited, but the US’s time is not, is inaccurate. Because the US strategy of imposing pressure and threatening force has proven unworkable, one may conclude that the window of opportunity to strike a deal and reach a peaceful solution with Iran over its nuclear programme will remain open for as long as Rouhani maintains his existing level of credibility over Iran’s foreign policy.
In other words, the window of opportunity is as wide or as narrow for the US and the world powers as it is for Rouhani.
Additionally, if Rouhani does not succeed in bringing about meaningful sanctions relief, and consequently his position is weakened to the point that he loses his credibility over Iran’s foreign policy, what other scenario can reasonably be expected than the escalation of conflict between Iran and the US?
There is no guarantee that a continuance of that unstable situation will not transform this relationship from one of a Cold-War status to that of an all-out war.
Seyed Hossein Mousavian is associate scholar at Princeton University. He served as the Head of Foreign Relation Committee of Iran’s National Security Council from 1997 to 2005.
Shahir Shahidsaless is a political analyst and freelance journalist, writing primarily about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs. He lives in Canada.