“Can the United States Affect Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions?” was the topic of the Cato Institute’s November 3rd forum. Matthew Duss, National Security Researcher at the Center for American Progress, focused on the diverse and factionalizing environment within Iran, arguing that on June 12th, the date of Iran’s tenth presidential election, “the game changed.” Duss identified a trend where, post-June 12th, “large sections of the clerical establishment [are breaking] away from the regime.”
Iran’s green movement, the pro-democracy movement which was triggered by June’s disputed elections, is diverse, claimed Duss: Some want a reform of the Islamic government, that is, fair and free elections; some want secularism. He pointed out, however, that these ideals are unique to Iranians and do not necessarily match American ideals. These protestors, he argued, are similar to the ones of the Iranian Revolution: most protests are contained in Universities and the funerals of murdered demonstrators are being used to motivate disconsolate Iranians.
Duss said that some protestors are mirroring the protesting styles of Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh, the former Prime Minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989. Mousavi is employing an Islamist terminology to attack the regime, is openly willing to be a martyr, and is against western intervention, he said. Additionally, the nuclear program and negotiations with P5-plus-1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—China, Russia, Britain, France, and the United States—plus Germany) are not well-liked in Iran, Duss claimed.
Justin Logan, associate director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, expressed skepticism of the U.S. government’s strategies to engage the Iranian government. He expressed qualms that with P5-plus-1 “there can be any diplomatic resolution of the problem.” Suggesting that even the best prospects of negotiations would merely “lengthen the fuse.”
Logan then asked what drives the policy timelines in Washington, since they differ so severely from the reality of the developments inside of Iran. The government has a history of overestimating Iran’s progress towards nuclear capability.
A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 1992 Document warns of Russia’s impending sale of nuclear reactors to Iran. After listing similar reports, Logan held up a small stack of papers and said that he has “four pages of this.”
Logan identified an enthusiasm in Congress for more unilateral sanctions. Yet, he urged them to consider who sanctions would empower and suggested a new attitude of “ethics of outcomes rather than the ethics of intentions.” The “history of unilateral sanctions of oil-rich countries in the middle east is not a happy one,” he claimed. The effect of sanctions “would be to damage honest people in the productive economy” and would expand the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the economy, he warned.
Logan expressed a preference for a diplomatic solution, or rather an attempt at a diplomatic solution, to Iran’s nuclear intention but admitted that “in all probability it will fail.”
He urged Americans to scrutinize “the idea that this is a sort of hair on fire situation in the United States.” Logan argued that a main reason the government has long been resistant to nuclear proliferation is that “it will cramp our style.” The U.S. government fears the “constraining effect that a nuclear Iran would have on U.S. military options,” he argued, and that it will hamper the “ability to effect regime change by military means.”
In a November 10th interview with Reuters, President Barack Obama said that the U.S. has an agreement with some P5-plus-1 countries “putting an offer on the table to Iran…giving them a pathway for legitimate civilian nuclear energy use,” but as of yet Iran has not given the “positive response that we want.”