As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s lead envoy Saeed Jalili meet in Istanbul on May 15, the six global powers negotiating with Tehran face an increasingly inconvenient truth: while sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, they have not changed Tehran’s nuclear calculus. Although some policymakers and pundits privately concede this point, there is no consensus as to why. Hardliners tend to argue that sanctions are not tough enough and must be intensified. Elements on the left argue that sanctions must be given time to make an impact.
In reality, both sides miss the real reasons that have rendered sanctions unsuccessful – by failing to offer a credible exit from the sanctions pain, neither the Iranian government nor stakeholders in the Iranian system believe that a change in nuclear policy will lead to the alleviation of their economic suffering.
The current sanctions policy is based on a shaky assumption – the belief that economic pain and dissatisfaction among political elites automatically will result in pressure on the Iranian regime to change its nuclear course. This assumption does not hold. The economic pain imposed on Iran is intense – but directionless.
This year’s general elections in Pakistan will be remembered for two things: the determination of the people of Pakistan to see them through and the equal determination of the men of violence to prevent them. As Pakistanis prepare to go to the polls on May 11, there is much nervousness and hope for its outcome, potentially the first successful democratic transition between two popularly elected governments in Pakistan’s history.
What my experience as a district officer has taught me, however, is that there is nothing more dangerous than changing horses in mid-stream. National elections have proven in the past to lead to the collapse of law and order and the imposition of martial law. With the promise of the current elections, this is a cycle that appears to be broken, but we should be aware of its dangers.
This eminently Bushist Obama “red line” business, applied to Syria, Iran or both, is becoming a tad ridiculous.
Take Pentagon head Chuck Hagel’s tour of Israel and the “friendly” GCC (the de facto Gulf Counter-revolution Club) last week. US defense contractors had the Moet flowing as Hagel merrily congregated with that prodigy of democracy – United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – to celebrate the sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets.
There’s more on the way; 48 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD missile interceptors, at a cool US$1 billion. The Pentagon is sending one of its only two of such systems to Guam this month to counter that other threat – missiles from North Korea.
The weaponizing free fest to Israel and the Gulf petro-monarchies – missile defense, fighter jets, mega-bombs – could not but be duly hailed as the proverbial “message” to “counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions”, or “the air and missile threat posed by Iran”, or the general “worry about Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon” or “Washington’s determination to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
The outlines of a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran have long been obvious: Western recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights in return for more intrusive monitoring and verification of Iranian nuclear facilities. With agreement so readily at hand, the Obama administration’s refusal to take it is baffling to many international observers. But the reason for American obstinacy becomes clearer when one considers that the Iranian nuclear issue has at least as much to do with the future of international order as it does with nonproliferation.
Conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by two different approaches to interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These approaches, in turn, are rooted in different conceptions of world order.
In one concept, the rules of international relations are created through the consent of independent, sovereign states and are to be interpreted narrowly. This model is understandably favoured by non-Western states – for it is the only way international rules might constrain established powers as well as rising powers and the less powerful. But it is at odds with the model favoured by America and its Western partners, which emphasises the goals motivating states to create particular rules in the first place – not the rules themselves, but the goals underlying them. This model also ascribes a special role in interpreting rules to the most powerful states – those with the resources and willingness to “enforce” their concept of global order.
Though a military conflict in the Persian Gulf does not appear to be imminent, the situation in the region today somewhat resembles that in Europe just prior to World War I, a top Russian security analyst told Asia Times Online. While nobody wants a war, the different actors could easily be drawn into one, said Dr Victor Mizin, vice president of the Center for Strategic Assessments in Moscow.
It is conceivable that the Iranians might try to weaponize in the future their nuclear potential, Mizin said, much like the Indians did in the past, largely under pressure from their own nuclear scientists. In this case, Israel would likely “be doomed to use force” despite pressure from Washington and military assessments that a successful operation would require the attacker “to knock out immediately some 2,000 targets” including nuclear facilities, military and missile bases, and air defense installations.
General Fang Fenghui, the PLA Chief of the General Staff had some tough words for North Korea during the press conference following his meeting with General Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday last week:
China is resolutely opposed to North Korea’s nuclear tests. As far as we can tell, they have carried out their third nuclear test and may be preparing for a fourth. Faced with this situation, we wish to work well in common with all sides on all sides to make the North Koreans suspend nuclear testing and nuclear weapons production. A denuclearized Korean Peninsula is in the common interests of all sides. 
Fang’s statement is the latest signal from Beijing that North Korea’s recent actions are unacceptable. It comes after a string of similar comments from the Chinese leadership. At the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum, President Xi Jinping said, “No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains,” a statement widely interpreted as an oblique censure of North Korea.
The administration of President Barack Obama should put more emphasis on diplomacy in its quest for a satisfactory resolution of Iran’s nuclear program, according to a major new report released by The Iran Project.
The report, endorsed by nearly three dozen former top US diplomatic, military, and intelligence officials, calls for Washington to “rebalance” its dual-track policy toward Tehran by strengthening the diplomatic track to take advantage of the pressure it has exerted on Tehran through ever-stricter sanctions and threats of military action.
“Much has been accomplished through pressure, but the results have fallen short of expectations in several ways, and unintended consequences pose risks,” according to the report, the latest in a series by The Iran Project and the first to make specific policy recommendations designed to both defuse persistent tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program and lay the groundwork for a broader dialogue between the two countries.