The West’s Unrealistic Optimism on Iran Sanctions

The West’s Unrealistic Optimism on Iran Sanctions

The latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries came to a stalemate in Moscow last week, as the two sides once again failed to bridge their differences. Although the previous meeting in Istanbul generated some optimism that a mutually satisfactory solution to Iran’s nuclear program could be within reach, these hopes turned out to be premature in light of the negotiating positions the parties have taken over the past several months.

It is now obvious that Western powers were wrong to expect that increased unilateral economic sanctions on Iran could effect some change in Iran’s negotiating position and thus realize some of the West’s tactical, if not strategic, goals with regard to the country’s nuclear program. Specifically, the U.S. and its allies had hoped that Iran would agree to at least suspend its 20 percent uranium enrichment activities, ship its current stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium abroad and close its Fordo uranium enrichment center, all in return for fuel rods for Tehran’s nuclear research reactor and some other sweeteners, such as a lifting of the embargo on civilian aircraft parts.

Several factors were responsible for creating the atmosphere of premature optimism in Western media and political circles. First, economic turmoil in Iran over the past several months seemed to indicate that the sanctions were having a painful effect. A sharp depreciation of the Iranian currency early this year and a rising inflation rate were generally attributed in the West to the mounting economic pressures of sanctions. Second, there was an unmistakable shift in the public pronouncements of Iranian officials over the past few months on Iran’s goals in pursuing nuclear talks. For the first time since the imposition of the recent rounds of economic sanctions on their country, Iranian officials have been calling in chorus for the West to remove the “oppressive” measures, which could be interpreted as an implicit acknowledgement of the impact they were having on the Iranian economy as well as of Iran’s readiness for compromise.

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