Kerry and Zarif at Vienna nuclear talks, Nov. 23.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As we enter January 2015 it is worth noting that negotiations over Iran’s illicit nuclear program have now made an imprint on three calendar years. Nevertheless, defenders of the seemingly never-ending bargaining process between the US, its allies and Iran continue to spin the original interim agreement struck in November 2013 (the Joint Plan of Action or “JPA”) – as well as the two extensions of the agreement struck in 2014 – as a success.
But missing from the spin are cold hard facts. Most notably, despite the JPA and its two extensions, Iran continues to operate centrifuges, research and develop more advanced nuclear technology and missiles, and stonewall international nuclear inspectors with impunity. At the same time, the Iranian regime’s extremist behavior and meddling in the region have continued unabated, as have its brutal repression and human rights abuses at home.
The unprecedented economic pressure applied to Iran has also subsided.
The inability of the parties to strike a final agreement in six months as initially set out under the terms of the JPA in 2013 should make it clear that Iran cannot, or will not, take the steps necessary to verify the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. This is despite the fact that the international community has made a number of considerable concessions to Iran, including an easing of sanctions pressure and recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
AFTER MORE than a year of negotiations, there is simply no evidence to suggest that additional attempts to incentivize the Iranians to change course through more concessions or sanctions easing will be effective. Rather, Iran’s refusal to make significant and timely concessions warrants a re-imposition and ratcheting up of sanctions.
Between 2010 and 2013 a broad coalition of nations imposed a wide array of effective sanctions measures. Sanctions on Iran’s banking and financial sectors, for example, significantly hindered the regime’s ability to access international capital markets. Western powers effectively curtailed purchases of Iranian oil, bucking conventional wisdom that reductions in global supply would shock energy markets (something reconfirmed by the recent plunge in oil prices).
These measures had a significant impact. Revenues from Iranian oil exports plummeted and industries dominated by the regime such as petrochemicals, shipping and auto manufacturing were considerably degraded. The resulting pressure unquestionably drove Tehran back to the negotiating table.
This trajectory of increasing pressure was stopped in its tracks by the signing of the JPA in November 2013. As a result, international trade delegations are lining up to re-enter the Iranian market and the International Monetary Fund predicts that Iran’s economy is set to grow some 2.3 percent in 2015.
In exchange for this economic lifeline, Iran has given little in return.
If the US and its partners continue to offer concessions without requiring Iran to take substantive steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, then they are complicit in any Iranian scheme to exploit the negotiating process to pocket concessions (such as sanctions easing and a right to enrich nuclear material), while buying time to further develop its nuclear capabilities.
Such a dynamic between the parties greatly favors Iran, as it is awarded with concessions for simply sitting at the negotiating table.
There is no evidence that Iran will respond to additional inducements.
Furthermore the current trajectory all but guarantees that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons. All of the evidence shows that more pressure, not less, must be applied if we are to avoid the disastrous consequences of a nuclear- armed Iran.
Iran is using stalling tactics and the implied threats of blowing up negotiations on the one hand, and increasing mischief in the region on the other, to reap the economic and technological benefits of endless negotiations.
The US must not allow this. The US has spent enough time around negotiating tables in Geneva, Vienna and New York. It is time to go back to the effective policies of sanctions and economic pressure that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.
Iran must understand that there will be catastrophic economic consequences resulting from a failure to reach a final and acceptable agreement.
Rudyard Kipling wrote, “if once you have paid him the Dane-geld, You never get rid of the Dane.” A hundred years later, the analogy is clear: we are indeed paying the Dane, an extremist theocratic terrorist state dangerously close to acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Let us heed Kipling’s words.David Ibsen is the executive director of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), based out of New York City.