The Diplomat speaks with Joseph Costa, co-director of the Truman National Security Project’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Experts Group, about the future of Iran's nuclear program.
What’s your impression of the current British Embassy crisis? How much does the history between Britain and Iran play a role in the conflict? Do memories of Iran’s relations with Britain in the past still run deep, or does the current situation have more to do with Iran’s nuclear program?
The last three months have witnessed the crisis with Iran turn from a simmer to a boil. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived to the September U.N. General Assembly meeting with a message worth entertaining. He offered to “cease the domestic enrichment of uranium of up to 20 percent” if the same fuel was provided to Iran in the form of fuel rods to operate a domestic research reactor that produces medical isotopes.
The Obama administration played down Ahmadinejad’s offer. A month later, it announced an explosive indictment against the Iranian regime, accusing senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp of being behind a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States. Only nine of 193 member state countries voted against a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for the Islamic Republic to cooperate with investigations into the matter.
In November, the U.N. body in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear program released a report that provided the most comprehensive account of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons related activities. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Safeguards Report on Iran was unequivocal: “Information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to development of a nuclear explosive device” and “some activities may still be ongoing.”
The United Kingdom responded to these developments by becoming the first state to cut off all financial ties with Iran, including with the Central Bank of Iran.
Enter the current crisis: Hundreds of furious Iranian protestors were free to storm the British Embassy.
Lingering memories of the United Kingdom’s opportunistic invasion into Iran during World War II and its role in the 1953 coup that overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh are two of the most well known historical occurrences that continue to haunt Iran’s relations with the “old fox.” In fact, the Iranian government’s distrust of the British runs deep. The storming of the British Embassy, however, must be seen within the context of recent events that have surrounded the nuclear issue.
Contrary to the opinion that this event demonstrates the increasing radicalization of the Iranian government, it once again proves the complex and divided domestic environment in Iran. While some elements of the government clearly condoned this unacceptable attack on the British Embassy, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he was “deeply sorry” for the raid.
How much does the current British Embassy crisis damage the possibility of talks on Iran’s nuclear program? Is there any possibility of discussions in the near future over a possible resolution?
Any prospects of near-term talks on the core nuclear issues for the duration of President Obama’s first term were dead long before the British Embassy crisis. Even talks on a small technical matter such as a 20 percent enriched fuel swap received a strong domestic backlash in both the U.S. and Iran.
Foreign policy is determined by domestic politics. The prospect that the Obama administration will be prepared to make any shift in policy prior to the November 2012 presidential elections is slim. As calls to pressure Iran will increase during the campaign season, the likeliest scenario is that the administration will remain locked in its current isolate and sanction policy, producing the same underwhelming results.
Iran has its own set of internal challenges, and the intense public struggle between President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader’s allies continues unabated in the lead up to Iran’s 2013 presidential elections.
Photo Credit: Office of the President of IranView as Single Page