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Opinion | Let's Make a Deal: Serious Sanctions Relief Imperative for Iran Pact

by KATE GOULD

02 Jun 2012 21:35Comments
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Reaching a real accord with Iran will require real compromise -- and that means real easing of sanctions.

Kate Gould is legislative associate for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobby in the public interest. One of only a handful of registered lobbyists working to prevent war with Iran, she also lobbies on Israel/Palestine peace. She blogs at fcnl.org/blog/2c.
[ opinion ] During the most recent round of talks between the United States and other world powers with Iran in Baghdad, a major sticking point was that the powers refused to propose Iran genuine sanctions relief in exchange for their far-reaching demands. Instead, the powers merely offered Iran access to civilian aircraft parts and other small-scale incentives. To achieve progress during the next talks, scheduled for June 18-19 in Moscow, all parties must be willing to conduct serious "give and take" negotiations. This will require that the United States and other world powers offer some form of genuine sanctions relief, in return for Iran limiting its uranium enrichment program.

The panelists on last week's edition of Al Jazeera English's Inside Story: Americas illustrated why sanctions relief -- and specifically the postponement of the impending European Union oil embargo against Iran -- must be on the table to make diplomatic progress in Moscow. The E.U. has already stated that it will press ahead with the embargo; however, it has also not ruled out changing course if Iran were to agree to a package deal with the powers.

"What happened in Baghdad, of the various things put on the table, sanctions relief was not one of them. From the Iranian perspective, they view this as too much of a concession," Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and one of the featured panelists, explained. For the talks to be successful, he said, both sides need to be able to claim victory in order to rally support for the deal internally. Parsi warned that if Iran concedes to the powers' demand for limiting enrichment while the E.U. embargo goes ahead as planned, it will be nearly impossible for Iran to claim victory:

I find it very difficult [to imagine] that they would be able to claim a victory if they cease 20%, but then you still have oil sanctions kick in three weeks later. It's not going to be possible for them to spin that as a win domestically or to their own elites.

Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, and Hooman Majd, a veteran Iranian-American journalist, agreed that the postponement of the embargo would be critical for a successful deal in Moscow.

Why the offer of civilian aircraft parts won't cut it

Rather than incentivize Iran with genuine sanctions relief in Baghdad, the United States and other world powers offered incentives that were modest at best. One of the primary "carrots" that would be given to Iran if agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium to a concentration of 5 percent was access to civilian air safety parts for Iranian passenger planes. The refusal to put sanctions relief on the table exemplified what foreign policy expert Stephen Walt termed the "arrogance of power," invoking the late Senator J. William Fulbright's term for the tendency of powerful states to think they can dictate to others with near-impunity.

Due in large part to draconian U.S. sanctions against Iran, much of the Iranian civilian air carrier fleet has fallen into disrepair, resulting in one of the highest airplane fatality rates in the world. More than a thousand Iranians have been killed in plane crashes within the last ten years.

To be clear, the proposal didn't include an offer to deliver these aircraft parts directly to Iran, but rather, "access" to the purchase of parts essential for air safety. Existing U.S. law does allow the president to waive certain sanctions in order to export civilian aircraft parts to Iran. However, Iran's requests are rejected almost as a matter of course, and in the rare instances when this waiver authority has been invoked, Congress has often attempted to block such sales.

Using civilian air safety in Iran as a bargaining chip for geopolitical negotiations raises profound ethical dilemmas. Worse still, the safety of Iranian civilian planes is predicated on an arrangement that is widely recognized as a nonstarter for Iran, unless it is followed up with a signal that the powers are willing to lift sanctions -- or to at least suspend the imposition of new ones.

The endgame: a "win-win" deal for all

Any successful negotiating strategy requires give and take. As veteran CIA analyst Paul Pillar compellingly points out, however, when it comes to Iran, the United States and other world powers seem to have largely adhered to an "all take, no give" approach:

As Iran has been brought to one side of [the] table and shows increasing flexibility in recent weeks, the direction of those represented on the other side of the table -- and in particular in the U.S. Congress -- has been to pile on still more sanctions.

This unwillingness to relinquish relief on sanctions continues despite the fact that the general dimensions of a final deal are clear to most everyone who is interested in a resolution of the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. In fact, the United States, Iran, and other major players have agreed to various aspects of it before, if at different times. Indeed, the history of the U.S.-Iranian relationship is plagued by missed opportunities.

Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, describes the contours of a crisis-ending agreement with Iran, contours she says are already "well-known":

Iran will cap uranium enrichment at below 5%, export all stocks of uranium enriched above this level, limit enrichment to one or two sites, and fully open all aspects of its nuclear program to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors, such that the IAEA can verify that its program is entirely civilian. In return, the sanctions siege currently imposed in Iran will end, and normalization of relations between Iran and the international community will begin.

Dr. Muhammed Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California, has laid out in detail each essential component of such a deal, adding that in return for an agreement by Iran to adhere to a regime of intrusive inspections of its nuclear program by signing what is known as the "Additional Protocol" to its IAEA Safeguards Agreement, "the economic sanctions imposed on Iran must be lifted, and Iran's nuclear dossier must leave the Security Council's docket and be returned to the IAEA."

It is a formula that most everyone understands would end the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, yet thus far, hardliners on all sides who fear peace more than war have carried the day in preventing such a deal from being reached.

Postponement of E.U. embargo crucial to seal a deal

Postponement of the E.U. embargo is widely recognized as the most likely form of significant sanctions relief, since it wouldn't actually require the lifting of existing sanctions, but rather a delay in imposing additional ones.

Lawrence Korb has gone so far as to say that failure to postpone the oil embargo would kill the talks:

If they go ahead with the European sanctions, both on the oil and financial, I don't think there is any hope after that.... If it doesn't happen in June, come 1 July, I don't know if you can really go back to the bargaining table after that.

Trita Parsi agreed, concluding, "I personally doubt that an agreement can be found if there isn't at least some form of sanctions relief involved in the deal in return for some tangible, verifiable, valuable concession from the Iranian side."

Would Iran respond favorably to a balanced offer that includes sanctions relief? To find out the answer, the United States and other world powers must first start with the "give and take" approach, giving diplomacy an opportunity to succeed.

related reading | Rafsanjani: US Has Upper Hand in Nuclear Negotiations | Iranian Ex-Diplomat: P5+1 'Wants Iran to Give Diamonds for Peanuts'

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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