It has been a delicate situation to say the least in the previous weeks between US President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—one that inspires hope, and yet skepticism. Many look at the phone call between the two presidents as signifying a mutually beneficial thaw in Iran-US relations. Just today, the Iranian parliament openly condoned Rouhani’s move to conciliate with the US.
To others, however, Iran’s new-found friendliness has incited claims of deception and stall tactics. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has lead the charge. Washington Times reports:
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the peace overtures made last week at the United Nations by Iranian leaders were nonsense and lambasted Iran’s new president as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” seeking to pull the “wool over the eyes of the international community.”
“I wish I could believe [President Hasan] Rouhani, but I don’t because facts are stubborn things, and the facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric,” Mr. Netanyahu said just one week after world leaders gathered in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting.”
Of course, Netanyahu has good reason to be skeptical. Admittedly, I also completely dismissed the “good news” of the moderate Rouhani being elected this past Summer. But what options are really left? Should we continue and even intensify sanctions?
Congress members, such as John McCain and Chuck Schumer, have attributed Iranian moderation as a sign of our current sanction policy’s effectiveness:
“The impact of these sanctions may finally be bringing Iran to the negotiating table, and now is not the time to delay, remove or loosen these measures. Doing so now would be extremely counterproductive. Instead, we should continue to move forward with strong implementation of our sanctions unless Iran suspends its nuclear program.”
It’s certainly plausible that sanctions have forced Iran to switch up strategy. But even so, it seems sanctions have likely reached there limit for many reasons—pissing off China and other oil guzzlers being one of them. Any increase in sanctions at this point will only be a symbolic measure by a Congress that knows war is, at least for now, out of the question.
Conciliation, on the other hand, is a real alternative that might lead to US gains—and Rouhani has conveniently opened the door. No doubt, the US should tread with caution with regard to Iran. But if you’re one to believe that sanctions have outlived their use, then they can be used as a much more effective tool of persuasion by gradually lifting them. Even in the worst case scenario of Iran still acquiring nuclear weapons, thawed US-Iranian relations would at least make the situation more manageable.
Rouhani then has offered the US a real opportunity. But because it takes two to tango, Netanyahu and the US Congress are sabotaging any hopes. Obama should instead move slowly and cautiously to ameliorate US-Iranian relations, rather than stick to a now outdated sanctions policy that aims to inflict pain. Netanyahu claims Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But if the West automatically dismisses conciliation, it appears that would make the US and Israel a pair of stubborn dogs.