The UN Security Council has entered into yet another round of exasperating negotiations about how to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A divided Council is unlikely to reach agreement on strong action against Tehran, and the continued focus on the Council will only produce diminishing returns.
Any hope of restraining Iran’s nuclear weapons program requires getting off the UN track and shifting the focus back to the trans-Atlantic partnership, where a genuine common strategy—rather than what is an increasingly superficial policy consensus—is still possible.
Europe and the United States will both need to make concessions for a possible solution to emerge. Europe should commit itself to imposing more sanctions outside the United Nations. In return, Americashould agree to enter unconditional negotiations with Iran.
Seizing this opportunity requires jettisoning the wrongheaded and historically peculiar idea, now popular in both the United States and Europe, that sanctions and diplomacy are mutually exclusive. Both are necessary and potentially complementary—the challenge is in figuring out how to get them right.
The Bush administration is correct to insist on imposing sanctions, which would help reverse the unfortunately correct perception that the world is unwilling to back up its demands.
America and Europefirst insisted that Iran indefinitely suspend its uranium enrichment. They later discussed a short or even “secret” freeze on a smaller fraction of Iranian activities. The Security Council then set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing, warning of "appropriate measures" if Iran failed to comply with the UN and the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Two months later, the Security Council has yet to take action. It is not surprising, then, that Irancontinues to push its program forward.
Yet Europe is also correct to insist on talks. While European governments still pay lip service to their demand that Iran suspend its nuclear activities before formal negotiations can begin, continued high-level Europe-Iran discussions make clear that EU leaders want unconditional talks. Their instincts are right: As James Baker has pointed out recently, it is not appeasement to talk to your enemies—it is smart policy.
Neither sanctions nor talks alone will work. Without sanctions, the West will enter talks from such a position of weakness that a favorable negotiated solution will be highly unlikely.
Without talks, the chances for progress are remote—the United States and Europe can pressure Iran through sanctions, but they will not bring down the Iranian regime.
On the other hand, pursuing both routes simultaneously would address a host of problems. By delivering the United Statesto talks, European governments would gain the political cover they need to press ahead with sanctions outside the UN.
Similarly, by getting Europe to punish Iran outside the UN, America would gain the confidence it needs to enter unconditional talks. Sanctions would also deliver an important negotiating tool, since sanctions that are imposed are sanctions that can be suspended asIran begins to alter its behavior.
While pressure to remove sanctions builds over time, applying them is better than setting and then ignoring artificially set deadlines for compliance with one diktat or another.
There is a long history of sanctions used in parallel with diplomacy. The United States took part in high- level talks with India andPakistan on the basis of Group of 7 sanctions applied after their nuclear tests in 1998.
America has sanctioned China on two dozen occasions since 1985 for a variety of nonproliferation breaches, all while strengthening relations on other fronts. IfIran sees negotiations as being in its best interests, it will come to the table eventually, even after the imposition of sanctions.
Imposing sanctions on Iran may delay the day negotiations begin, but they will make future talks more likely to contain Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.
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