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The Race for Iran

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


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