Give Diplomacy with Iran a Chance

Written on February 15, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Foreign Policy, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, Middle East

Iran Is Ready to Talk

By Dennis B. Ross

Speculation about an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is rife, but there is little discussion about whether diplomacy can still succeed, precluding the need for military action.

Many experts doubt that Tehran would ever accept a deal that uses intrusive inspections and denies or limits uranium enrichment to halt any advances toward a nuclear weapons capability, while still permitting the development of civilian nuclear power. But before we assume that diplomacy can’t work, it is worth considering that Iranians are now facing crippling pressure and that their leaders have in the past altered their behavior in response to such pressure. Notwithstanding all their bluster, there are signs that Tehran is now looking for a way out.

Much has changed in the last three years. In January 2009, Iran was spreading its influence throughout the Middle East, and Arab leaders were reluctant to criticize Iran in public lest they trigger a coercive Iranian reaction. Similarly, Iran’s government wasn’t facing significant economic pressures; Iranians had simply adjusted to the incremental sanctions they were then facing.

Today, Iran is more isolated than ever. The regional balance of power is shifting against Tehran, in no small part because of its ongoing support for the beleaguered government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The Assad regime is failing, and in time, Iran will lose its only state ally in the Arab world and its conduit for arming the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran’s Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf, and even the United Nations General Assembly, no longer hesitate to criticize Tehran. Gone is the fear of Iranian intimidation, as the Saudis demonstrated by immediately promising to fill the gap and meet Europe’s needs when the European Union announced its decision to boycott the purchase of Iran’s oil. Even after Iran denounced the Saudi move as a hostile act, the Saudis did not back off.

Iran cannot do business with or obtain credit from any reputable international bank, nor can it easily insure its ships or find energy investors. According to Iran’s oil ministry, the energy sector needs more than $100 billion in investments to revitalize its aging infrastructure; it now faces a severe shortfall. Read more…

Dennis B. Ross, a former State Department and National Security Council official, was a special assistant to President Obama for the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia from 2009 to 2011.

As published in www.nytimes.com on February 14, 2012 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on February 15, 2012, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Iran Is Ready to Talk).


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