Iran: Between U.S. and a Hard Place
Image Credit: Sajed

Iran: Between U.S. and a Hard Place


If war with Iran is to be avoided, then negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group have to succeed. Turkey has already offered to host any talks, and Iran has said it’s ready to attend. It also seems likely that the P5+1 will also be willing to proceed. But with no date having yet been set despite tensions running so high, U.S. President Barack Obama should be willing to offer to go the extra mile and hold bilateral talks with Iran during any negotiations.

Yet doing so won’t be easy. Although the situation is delicate enough to make it well worth Obama’s while, Republican presidential candidates have been breathing down his neck demanding that he take a tougher line. And they aren’t alone – allies the U.K., France and Israel have also been pressing him, meaning Obama’s room for maneuver would likely be limited even if such talks take place.

Either way, negotiations are about give and take. So just what exactly would Obama be able to offer?

At the least, he would probably offer to lift some of the current sanctions against Iran. At the most, he could also offer a modified version of the October 2009 Geneva deal. But this time, instead of Iran shipping out 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) in return for nuclear fuel (as was the case in Geneva),  Iran could be asked to ship out 100 percent of its 20 percent enriched uranium. This could be in addition to at least 75 percent of the remaining stock of uranium enriched at levels below 20 percent. In return, all the shipped LEU would be turned into nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which would allow it to make medical isotopes. Such a high percentage of LEU being shipped out would ensure that the regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei wouldn’t have sufficient LEU to make a bomb, if he were indeed inclined to try in the next year or so.

But what would Obama want from Iran in return?

At a bare minimum, the Obama administration would likely expect immediate answers from Iran to all outstanding International Atomic Energy Agency queries, which would probably entail immediate access to all sites of interest to the IAEA.

And what about Iran?

For Khamenei, it’s not going to be easy to offer much. On the one hand, he’s facing crushing economic and diplomatic pressure from Obama, the likes of which he hasn’t seen since becoming supreme leader. Should he ignore it, the Iranian economy, the health of which is crucial to the survival of the regime, could collapse.

On the other hand, the supreme leader is facing unprecedented problems at home. The regime is divided, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad becoming a more divisive figure every day. One has to ask how much longer Mahmoud Bahmani, the current head of Central Bank, will put up with him before resigning.

More importantly, Khamenei's position and policies are being questioned and criticized both directly and indirectly – in full view of the Iranian public – by former officials who have ties with conservative factions.

January 24, 2012 at 13:39

Surely the Iranian leaders would prefer Obama in power over his republican rivals?

Dennis Landry
January 23, 2012 at 22:43

The P5+1 has been an abject failure for the past six years. The ‘sophistication’ of European diplomats ran head long into an Iranian regime that used them to buy time. The sanctions, currently hurting Iran are essentially a U.S. decision with Europe dragging their feet and Russia and China protecting Iran not out of a commitment to Iran but as a vehicle to make life difficult for the U.S.

The sanctions, applied 5 years ago, would have resulted in something; hind site but predicted by many at the time.

What we consistently fail to acknowledge is the power of the messanic belief system in place at the top of the Iranian regime. The secular west simply refused to understand that politics and economics in Iran take second and third place to the Theocracy in place.

Meaning……..the only message Iran will understand is clear positions and strength. The only message they will understand is a message followed by collective action including the ladies in Europe. It is complex for Europe as they have welcomed massive immigration from Islamic countries and that population is much more ‘Islamic’ than they are loyal to their current address.

Absent crushing sanctions, military action will be required. That military action will be presented as a fulfillment of the prophesy foreshadowing the return of the 12th Imam. His return requires chaos and the belief at the top is that it’s imminent. Reports have both the Supreme Leader and the President of Iran speaking with him directly.

Hallucinations don’t make for good negotiating partners!!

Nicodemus Minde
January 23, 2012 at 16:11

The relations between Iran and US will take years to be mended. The stances the US has taken to protect her ally, Israel and Iran’s blatant dislike for Israel have and will continue to jeopardize these relations. It will not take talks to resolves these issues but a complete overhaul of foreign policy decisions and goals to mend the relations between Iran and the US.

gerolamus sirtis
January 23, 2012 at 13:52

Iran gave the US a major casus belli in 79′ and since then has never stopped provoking the US, seen that the appropriate response to the original attack should have been to return Iran to a camelherders economy by massive retaliatory bombings. Iran’s theocracy is an illegal form of govrmnt. Totalitarian and ruthless. If we were to act in true principles, even following the UN laws, there should be NO negotiations with this child killers regime, only international trials in the Hague for Khamenei and cohorts for crimes against humanity.

Arash Irandoost
January 22, 2012 at 14:35

For the past 33 years various US administrations have attempted dialogue and diplomacy with the regime to no avail, why? because it is the mullahs that are not interested in dialogue and diplomacy and not the other way around. Was it not Clinton who waited 15 minutes in front of the UN Restroom for Khatami to come out after his dialogue of civilization propaganda, to thaw the ice between the 2 nations? What happened- well, khatami did not come out. Carter bent backward,gave mullahs a 25 year security guaranty-what happened? It cost him a reelection. Reagan tried, despite his tough rhetoric, what happened?-mullahs betrayed him and exposed the (Iran-Contra) affair. Obama offered his hand, what did he receive? a clinched fist- point being: Mullahs do not want to have dialogue and diplomacy with the US. Doing so will mean that they have to agree to halt building the bomb (yes, they are building the bomb-they were ordered so after Khomeini drank the poison chalice. Dialogue would also mean that-mullahs agree to stop supporting Hezbollah-are you kidding me? Mullahs owe their 2009 survival to Hezbollah. Mullahs have spent a 33 year propaganda brainwashing Iranians about the great Satan- agreeing to have a diplomatic and friendly relations with the great Satan-is akin to Khamenei drinking the poison Chalice. I have not talked about human rights and forcing mullahs to respect their citizens right to basic human right protections under the UN Human Rights Charter. Forget democracy! Who needs democracy-when you have Islam? (that is their mindset). Solution lies with the Iranian people- They need to show courage and make sacrifices (much like the Syrians) and get rid of this criminal regime once and for all.

January 22, 2012 at 11:13

Iran’s position is delicate but not insurmountable. To give the slightly more moderate Obama his necessary assistance in his next elections, Iran needs to provide insurmountable proof that the Nuke is not their goal… whilst at the same time gaining private reassurances from the US that they will cool down their military positioning around Iran. It is this policy of the US that is the true threat to Iran – and one that consistently ignored or downplayed.

Think the at-the-time secret US-USSR agreement to prevent nukes in Cuba in return for no nukes in Turkey.

The US position and rhetoric is based entirely on their public’s fear of ‘Scary people with Nukes’. Take that away and the heat goes down. This in turn will dampen the Israeli confrontational attitude to them. Without US support, they really won’t be able to take on Iran on their own.

And to do this? Khamenei needs to get rid of Ahmadinejad and install an internationally perceived more neutral president who specifies internationally their objection of a Jewish Israel, but vigorously supports a religiously neutral Israel.

The fact that Israel is a still-undeclared nuclear power is a mockery of pretty much every international agreement going is entirely irrelevant to the fact that the US holds the key – and they will only give it if their public’s fears are neutralised.

eugene wr gallun
January 22, 2012 at 10:14

Being stuck between Obama and a hard place is like being stuck between a marshmellow and a hard place.

January 22, 2012 at 04:08

Sarkozy and Cameron are considered puppies by iran and their barks safely would be ignored. as far as US, iran should start some dialog but no backing on nuclear technology rights. if after all these hardships, Ahmadinejad or Khamenei give up the nation’s right that would be the last straw for them.

Ahsan Rizvi
January 21, 2012 at 12:43

First,America should distroy American nuclear & other weapens then he can say ocountry

shahriyar Gourgi,....shahin
January 21, 2012 at 11:21

Nothing personal, just geopolitics: a “tragedy” at the moment when US-Iran relations are at their lowest point in a long time.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief