Time for West to Wise Up on Iran
Image Credit: Wikicommons / Americophile

Time for West to Wise Up on Iran


Already confronting an unprecedented series of economic sanctions, Iran is facing further isolation over last week’s storming of the British Embassy in Tehran. The closure of the embassy, and the consequent expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London, marks a dangerous escalation in Tehran-West tensions that could well extinguish any prospects for sustained and substantive dialogue over Iran’s nuclear program.

The Iranians, and those sympathetic to the assault, justified the siege by pointing to Britain’s increasingly aggressive diplomacy toward Tehran. Britain wasn’t only condemned for imposing unilateral sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank,and practically declaring an “economic war,” but it was also labeled as a “den of spies.” In light of the continued sabotage operations aimed at Iran’s military-nuclear facilities, and with a number of Iran’s top scientists having been assassinated, there has been lingering suspicion in Iran that British representatives might somehow have been complicit in the ongoing “shadow war” against the country.

And even setting such suspicions aside, Britain in a sense was a natural target for ultra-ideological Iranian elements. While Iran’s other two major nemeses – Israel and the United States – haven’t had a diplomatic presence in Iran for almost three decades, Britain chose to stay.

It’s not clear whether, despite the potential dangers, Britain really considered the possibility of such a backlash when it imposed a new set of tough sanctions, a move that caused particular disquiet among members of the Basij Student Organization. But the Iranian parliament’s swift response, namely calling for the expulsion of the British ambassador, should have been an indication of growing fury among influential voices in Iran.

Western countries, though, will no doubt interpret last week’s incident as another indication of Iran’s bellicosity and growing intransigence over its nuclear program. Iran was already under significant pressure following allegations the country – or at least elements within the security apparatus – were behind an alleged assassination plot against the Saudi Ambassador in Washington. These U.S. claims came shortly before the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report,which suggested that Iran may have been involved in nuclear warhead-related research activities.

So what is the immediate fallout from the past week’s incident and the subsequent Western response? Certainly, Russia’s call, echoed by China and other emerging powers, for so-called “step-by-step” diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program has been placed in serious jeopardy. But the embassy storming and British and European responses mean the West has lost another crucial channel of direct diplomatic communications with Iran. It’s precisely such a dearth of direct communication that has plagued Iran’s relations with major Western powers for decades. And with the Europeans following up with a new set of sanctions, asset freezes, and travel bans, expect the downward spiral to continue.

But there’s another, even more complicated, dimension to the issue, namely the increasingly complex nature of Iran’s domestic political landscape. Given Iran’s history of fiercely competitive elections, especially since the 1997 presidential poll, the upcoming parliamentary election is sparking an intensified foreign policy debate among competing domestic factions. While there certainly appears to be a national consensus in support of Iran’s nuclear program, there are differing views over the best approach to relations with the West, specifically Britain and the United States. 

December 7, 2011 at 13:53

I agree with what Ben said. They need to sit down and start to negotiate with Iran.

December 7, 2011 at 12:17

i blame us for the recent escalation of the crisis. its sure been a disaster in the making ever since it decided illegaly to invade iraq and played the favorite cards with india, not to mention the unspoken truth that israel is nuclear country under auspice of usa for 40 years.
who is usa to decide which one can or can not have what. it’s been these double standards in its foreign policy and unilaterl support for isreal that has hampered any real progress in the negotiations with iranian authority.
back off, american imperialists.

December 7, 2011 at 12:10

You got splendid points there Ben…

December 7, 2011 at 00:56

I like Javad’s take on the latest developments. I would rather not see Iran backed into a corner. I just can’t see that ending well.

Iran is already struggling under existing sanctions. Additional sanctions and harsher measures to further isolate the country aren’t going to bring about a miraculous tipping point where Iran gives in and embraces democracy. Try telling a crying child “you’re tired” and see how they react. And there is no chance that military action on the part of Israel would cause a change of heart. That would make things worse.

You can’t ferment an open society from within by shutting economic and geographical doors from the outside. Sanctions are useless unless you actually get to the negotiating table to use them as leverage, and you have to be prepared not only to impose them, but to remove them if certain conditions are met. Otherwise we are dealing with ultimatums, and Iran does not respond well to these.

As long as no shots have been fired, the U.S. needs to show more willingness for diplomacy and less for acting tough. As the author notes, it will be interesting to see how Russia and China’s moderating influences fare in the coming months. What a strange world.

December 6, 2011 at 23:51

iran is a fabulous country, beautiful land, light, food, people, culture .. sure they have a weird government, so does every country .. too bad about the egos in politics everywhere, so eager to strut

December 6, 2011 at 12:33

If Iran keeps going down this same path I wouldnt be surprised if Israel did. I dont think it would be a nuclear first strike but if Iran did anything back that was actually effective Israel would finish Iran off for good.

Kerry Givens
December 6, 2011 at 11:30

The is going to Nuke Iran point blank Deal with It

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