We're posting new material at GoingToTehran.com. Please join us there.

The Race for Iran

Interpreting Iran’s Response

Hillary Mann Leverett has updated her article over at Foreign Policy, “Pragmatists in Tehran,” in light of Iran’s response yesterday to the IAEA.

From her analysis:

Tehran’s initial oral response to International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei’s proposal to send most of Iran’s current stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for processing into fuel rods for its reactor in Tehran, indicates three important things about the Islamic Republic’s strategic perspective. First, Iran is interested in establishing a framework for international cooperation to develop its civil nuclear program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made this clear in an important speech on Oct. 29.

Second, Iran remains profoundly interested in creating a framework for broader strategic cooperation, especially with the United States. This has been a consistent objective in Iran’s interactions with the United States for several years, across ideologically diverse Iranian administrations, including the current Ahmadinejad administration.

Third, Iran might be willing to address international concerns about its nuclear program by sending portions of its LEU stockpile out of the country for futher, value-adding processing, in the process, making the management of the stockpile more transparent to the international community. However, Tehran will only do this if it is confident that other international parties will follow through on their commitments and that cooperation with those parties will not leave the Islamic Republic more vulnerable to international pressure.

You can read the entire article here.

— Ben Katcher


Turkey in the Middle


Turkey has received quite a bit of notice recently due to its increasingly close ties with the Islamic Republic. This attention intensified earlier this week when The Guardian published an interview with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which he called Iran “a friend” and cast doubt on Western suspicions that Iran intends to develop a nuclear weapon.

But this is not the first time that Turkey has sought to use the conflict between the United States and Iran to its advantage.

In 1980, following the Iranian revolution, the United States and Turkey signed a Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA), which committed Washington to provide Turkey with significant military and economic support – in exchange for access to Turkish military bases – as a way to balance Iranian power in the region. The DECA laid the groundwork for closer U.S.-Turkish ties and was key to Turkey’s participation in the first Gulf War.

As Flynt Leverett noted in Politico yesterday, times have changed and this time Turkey is exploiting the current U.S.-Iranian standoff to improve its ties with its southeastern neighbor.

— Ben Katcher


Flynt Leverett Counsels Patience

The above clip is a 4 minute interview Flynt Leverett did with World Focus‘s Daljit Dhaliwal.

Flynt explains that the Islamic Republic’s response to the IAEA yesterday represents neither obfuscation nor mixed signals, but is in fact part of the normal process of negotiations. It is not surprising that the Iranians are wary of sending most of their low-enriched uranium all at once to countries with which it has has difficult relations.

— Ben Katcher


Misconceptions on Iran

Robert Kagan’s op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post includes two common misconceptions with regard to the United States’ negotiations with Iran.

First, Kagan says that since the Islamic Republic does not appear to have fully and unconditionally accepted the P5+1 proposal to ship Iran’s uranium out of the country for enrichment, we must conclude that “the test results are in,” negotiations have failed, we must try something else.

But as Hillary Mann Leverett explains, the P5+1 proposal is quite different from the Islamic Republic’s original proposal. It is neither surprising nor unreasonable that Iran is seeking further negotiations to improve the deal’s terms.

The second misconception included in Kagan’s piece is the idea that the Obama administration has other good options if engagement doesn’t work. According to Kagan, “if Obama has any hope of getting anywhere with the mullahs, he needs to show them he means business, now, and immediately begin imposing new sanctions.”

The problem with this approach is that sanctions simply won’t work, in part because neither Russia nor China will support them. Kagan suggests that if Russia refuses to go along with sanctions, we should demonstrate that non-cooperation has unspecified “consequences.” He does not mention “China” in his column at all.

The fact is that “engagement” is our only option with Iran. Even if sanctions could work – and they can’t – they would only lead to further conflict down the road.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett elucidate this point in their piece in yesterday’s Politico:

America no longer has the economic and political wherewithal to dictate strategic outcomes in the Middle East. Increasingly, if Washington wants to promote and protect U.S. interests in this critical region, it will have to do so through serious diplomacy — by respecting evolving balances of power and accommodating the legitimate interests of others so that U.S. interests will be respected.

— Ben Katcher


Iran, Turkey and the New Middle East


For decades, the “Middle East” has customarily been defined as the Arab world plus Israel, with the United States as the principal external power engaged in the region. Over the course of the last decade, that traditional definition of the Middle East has started to erode in important ways. One of the most significant points of transformation has been the rise of regional states from outside the Arab-Israeli arena as consequential players in the Middle East’s political, economic, and strategic affairs. Iran is an outstanding example of this phenomenon; Turkey is another.

This week Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Iran, where he met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Erdogan was supposed to come to the United States immediately following his departure from Tehran; the Prime Minister’s Washington visit has now been postponed until early December. As we pointed out in an earlier post, Turkey’s relations with the Islamic Republic have improved dramatically in recent years – economic relations are expanding rapidly and the foundations for closer energy links are being laid. And, as Erdogan himself made clear in an interview with The Guardian earlier this week, political ties between Turkey and Iran are becoming both broader and deeper.

Some in Washington and in Israel criticize Turkey’s burgeoning relationship with Iran, saying that it comes at the expense of Ankara’s longstanding ties to the United States and Israel. Against this, we argue – in an Op Ed published in today’s POLITICO, entitled “Turkey, the United States, and the New Middle East” —that Ankara’s approach to the Islamic Republic actually serves Western interests better than established U.S. policy.

–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett