By Matthew Bunn
Today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s remarkable American University commencement address, in which he called for a new approach to easing tensions with the Soviet Union. Kennedy announced a halt in U.S. atmospheric nuclear testing, which quickly led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT). I have a piece in today’s Christian Science Monitor arguing that President Obama should take a similar approach to resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran – offering a substantial unilateral initiative to help break through the decades of mistrust and suspicion, with the promise of further conciliatory steps if Iran reciprocates in a substantial way.
In 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union had many conflicting interests – but they had common interests in avoiding nuclear war, limiting the costs of the arms race, and more. Kennedy’s initiative was based on the recognition that the mistrust that distorted each side’s view of the actions and proposals of the other side was a major obstacle to pursuing the common interests. Kennedy was familiar with psychologist Charles Osgood’s book, An Alternative to War or Surrender, which had come out a year before, proposing a strategy Osgood called Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-Reduction (GRIT). (Osgood had also pushed this idea in a number of papers, such as the one in this book.) Read more
By Kayhan Barzegar
This article was first published on December 17, 2012 in Persian by Tabnak
The Arab Spring has resulted in a shift in the nature of Iran’s regional policy from a traditional “reconciliation and resistance” approach to a “regional cooperation” approach. The new approach aims to strike a balance between strengthening cooperation with states in the region and containing threats through maintaining traditional relations with ideological movements. As a result, a new kind of pragmatism has emerged in Iran’s regional policy.
Prior to the Arab Spring, Iran was only able to enhance its role and project influence in the region through establishing close relations with the Arab Street and Islamist movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Of course, the establishment of a Shiite-majority government in Iraq and its closer relations with Iran was a turning point. But with the Arab Spring and the emergence of new nationalist-Islamist governments, such as that of Egypt, which seek an independent and active role in regional issues, an opportunity has emerged for Iran to simultaneously establish close relations with these Arab states. Read more
By Kayhan Barzegar
The Arab Spring can be seen as a turning point in the regional balance of power of the Middle East. Previously, the “balance of power” was determined at the level of classic players—the states—and therefore was easier. However, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the roles of states are now combined with the “dynamics of internal politics”—making them much more complicated.
From the outset of the Arab Spring, the domestic socio-political issues of the Arab countries—democratization, political reform, Islamization, elimination of authoritarianism, establishment of a market economy and middle class, and human rights issues have become the priorities in these countries. This development has impacted the objectives of the regional players in the context of balance of power.
In these new circumstances, each of the regional and trans-regional players seeks to restrain threats and enhance its influence. Turkey and the West pursue a greater role in order to extend their political leadership. On the other hand, Iran, Russia, China, and even Saudi Arabia seek greater roles to contain threats and enhance their security. Therefore, factors such as “model,” “ideology,” and “economy” are all employed to enhance the roles of the players. Read more
By Tytti Erästö
Stanton Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom
At different stages of the Iranian nuclear dispute, a window toward resolution has seemed to open up. For example in 2003 Iran proposed comprehensive negotiations with the Bush administration but the window was quickly slammed shut due to the latter’s unwillingness to break the old tradition of containing Iran. This position also effectively prevented the pursuit of the diplomatic track until most of the UN sanctions resolutions against Iran had been adopted.
Obama’s openness for negotiations created the first opportunity for reaching a compromise deal in 2009. This time, however, the opportunity was lost due to domestic pressures on the Iranian side. The result was an increased determination in the West to continue with the sanctions track—a determination which also prevented the P5+1 from seizing another diplomatic opportunity, offered to them by Turkish and Brazilian mediators in 2010. In spring 2012 a dim light of hope again emerged but soon faded away as discussions between Iran and the P5+1 only seemed to confirm the incompatibility of the two sides’ positions. Particularly since the latest round of discussions, there has been a sense of surrender to the interpretation that there simply is no diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute.
Surrendering to cynicism and worst-case scenarios, however, is premature as diplomatic means have by no means been exhausted. The real challenge is that the multilateral nuclear diplomacy with Iran has fallen hostage to the US-Iranian and Iranian-Israeli conflicts, which have reinforced the mutual lack of trust and created formidable obstacles for dialogue on both sides. Read more
By Kayhan Barzegar
Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, Tehran; Former Belfer Center Research Fellow in the Managing the Atom Project and International Security Program
As a consequence of the failure of the latest negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the European Union ban on the importation of Iranian oil took effect on July 1, 2012, and closure of the Strait of Hormuz by Iran became an issue again. This has provoked the following question: What actually is Iran’s strategy in the Strait of Hormuz?
The West has two perspectives on Iran closing the Strait. The first, based on a defensive standpoint, perceives Iran’s threat to be nothing more than a bluff, merely made to assert its power. Iran may be able to close the Strait temporarily, but lacks the superior military power to continue the closure. Read more
Annie Tracy Samuel
By Annie Tracy Samuel,
A longer version of this post appeared first at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
The violent confrontation between Bashar Assad’s regime and opposition forces, now fifteen months old, has generated much concern in Iran. The collapse of the regime would present a serious threat to Iran’s strategic interests. Syria has been one of Iran’s closest and most important allies since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, and the fall of the Assad regime would hamper Iran’s ability to project power into the eastern Mediterranean-Levant region.
Iran has therefore provided support to the Assad regime since the beginning of the Syrian uprising to help its ally stay in power. According to U.S. and European officials, members of Syrian opposition groups, and others, Iran is providing material support to the Syrian government to assist in the crackdown and is advising Syrian leaders on “best practices” for suppressing the protests, an area in which it has a fair amount of experience.
Iran has repeatedly denied accusations of any such involvement. While it is difficult to determine the extent and nature of Iran’s involvement in Syria from the information that is publicly available, it is reasonable to assume that Iran is indeed aiding the Assad regime, given Iran’s overriding interest in its survival. Still, it is not clear if Iranian forces are actually present in Syria or how important Iranian aid is to the Assad regime. Read more
David E. Sanger
By David E. Sanger
(This is an excerpt from a New York Times front-page article today, which is adapted from David Sanger’s new book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” being published by Crown on Tuesday.)
WASHINGTON — From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet. Read more
By Mansour Salsabili
Research Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
(This commentary appeared first on GlobalPost.com)
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Continuing to insist on sanctions against Iran will produce a bad deal for America.
Why? Because this week Iran is putting on the table in Baghdad a number of concrete and tension-reducing offers in response to the earlier requests of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
These offers will have the strong support of Russia and China, and may attract positive votes from other European delegations as well. This will leave the US administration, which cannot force Congress to end sanctions, in the corner and in a passive position in any future talks. Read more
By Nicholas Burns
The Indian government’s ill-advised statement last week that it will continue to purchase oil from Iran is a major setback for the U.S. attempt to isolate the Iranian government over the nuclear issue. The New York Times reported Sunday that Indian authorities are actively aiding Indian firms to avoid current sanctions by advising them to pay for Iranian oil in Indian rupees. It may go even further by agreeing to barter deals with Iran—all to circumvent the sanctions regime carefully constructed by the U.S. and its friends and allies. According to the Times, India now has the dubious distinction of being the leading importer of Iranian oil. Read more
By Olli J. Heinonen
By Olli Heinonen
In my January 11 article, “The 20 Percent Solution,” on the Foreign Policy magazine website, I wrote that Iran is on its way to becoming a virtual nuclear weapon state — a state that is putting the building blocks in place if it decides to manufacture a nuclear weapon. My analysis indicates that Iran may reach such a capability by 2013.
I suggested a way out from the stalemate in which Iran could convince the international community that its nuclear program will follow a peaceful track. This would include Iran suspending the production of enriched uranium and converting its existing 3.5 percent and 20 percent enriched uranium stocks, with the assistance of the international community, into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, as well as for another modern research reactor that could be provided to Iran. Read more