WASHINGTON, November 26, 2014 —Setting up a classic “good cop, bad cop” scenario, the partisan divide between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch may actually prove beneficial when it comes to nuclear talks with Iran.
Although there was a great deal hope a year ago that a deal on Iran’s nuclear program could be reached and Western relations normalized with the rogue state thanks to the rise of President Hassan Rouhani, considered a moderate, a deal is likely not possible at this time.
With the International Atomic Energy Agency encountering a lack of cooperation on behalf of Iran in regards to several areas of research that hint at the pursuit of a nuclear weapon, despite Iran’s insistence to the contrary, there are clearly strong enough reasons to justify the US curtailing sanctions relief. If negotiations were steadily making progress, Iran’s reluctance to reveal state secrets could be overlooked, but they are not.
Having extended the deadline to reach a nuclear deal with Iran another seven months, the Obama Administration has managed to keep hope alive, yet Republicans want to move ahead with stronger sanctions against Iran. Because President Obama needs Republican support in the near future to finalize a nuclear deal with Iran, he must reach a compromise with Republicans on sanctions.
At best, a compromise would eliminate the sanctions relief Iran is currently enjoying. Iranian leadership would be forced to react to renewed sanctions, but President Obama can honestly blame political division for agreeing to such a compromise. In other words, the Obama Administration can save face with Iran while gaining greater leverage over negotiation process through increased pressure from sanctions.
Furthermore, it is important to recognize Iran is also struggling with internal political shifts, during a time when the Iran and the US are intertwined in the conflict against the Islamic State as well as other matters in the Middle East.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power as a result of stewing civil discontent and international pressure, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei is still ultimately in control of Iran’s policies.
This means Rouhani’s survival as a political leader depends on his ability to produce results that the Supreme Leader can accept and that hinges on his ability to find solutions the outside world can also accept.
Failed negotiations with Iran could, therefore, result in the West losing one of its few friends in Tehran. On the other hand, drawing out the process will only exasperate the frustrations Khamenei and other hardliner conservatives are already feeling.
Instead of allowing a nuclear deal to be framed as a Western ploy to tease Iran, it would be better to frame the failure of the negotiations as a failure of Iranian conservatives who are unwilling to compromise. Allowing deferred sanctions against Iran to go back into affect while offering Tehran a second chance at negotiations in a few months would serve as a powerful reminder of what benefits Iran can expect from a nuclear deal.
If it is done now and done in a way that avoids insulting Iranian leadership, leaving the door open for a reboot of Iranian nuclear negotiations could lead to a viable deal. It would also help avoid renewed conflict between Iran and the US when the Middle East needs some level of cooperation, even if it is just the pursuit of a common goal instead of competing over influence in Iraq.