Iran Debates Negotiations
Iranians believe there are more similarities than differences between Obama and Bush
Obama’s election undoubtedly provides the best chance yet of a break in the political deadlock between Washington and Tehran that has become ever more entrenched over the last eight years. However, Obama’s talk of ‘the need for tough but direct diplomacy,’ is based on the assumption that the Iranians will sit down with the new regime on its terms and accept the ‘carrots and sticks’ it is willing to offer. Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist who has just returned from a fact-finding mission in Iran, sheds light on the issue: ‘There has been a debate in Tehran for some time over whether or not it is in the interests of Iran to enter into negotiations, and if so, under what circumstances.’
In 2007, Porter reminds us, the proposal engineered by EU foreign policy representative, Javier Solana for a six-week suspension of sanctions by the UN in return for a six-week suspension of uranium enrichment was ultimately rejected by Iran, although ‘there were voices saying they should accept the proposal,’ within the Iranian leadership. Likewise in 2003, the ‘don’t talk to evil’ philosophy of the Bush administration meant Tehran’s attempt to initiate diplomacy was rebuffed by the United States.
Now the focus is on Obama and what foreign policy shifts his presidency may usher in. Gareth Porter tells us ‘there are two very different interpretations of what to expect from an Obama administration in Iran. In the initial weeks after Obama’s election there was an optimistic view that it presented an opportunity for Iran to negotiate. The opposite viewpoint was that Obama may have wanted to open up relations with Iran but he couldn’t do it because of the power of the Zionist lobby in Washington.’
A bone of contention that split the Obama and Clinton camps during the race for the presidential nomination could hinder any progress when the latter takes up her new position as Secretary of State: the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, that designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as terrorists, was supported by Clinton but not Obama. The Director-General of North American Affairs in the Iranian Foreign Ministry told Porter ‘he now believes it’s very unlikely we’ll see any change with Obama’s policy.’ The strategy of putting pressure on Iran in order to gain concessions will remain in force, and according to Porter, ‘they won’t go to the negotiating table under pressure.’