President Barack Obama’s policies towards Iran have served as “an important force multiplier” in pressuring and isolating the Iranian regime, according to an article in Foreign Policy. Meir Javedanfar and Matthew Duss wrote that Obama’s leadership of strong international sanctions was helped by the initial attempt at dialogue. Obama’s multifaceted approach has boosted America’s credibility internationally and enabled the sanctions—which have sent a strong message to the Iranian regime—to garner widespread international support.
Javedanfar and Duss explained:
[W]hile negotiations with Iran have not yet achieved their primary goal—a solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program—they have not been without important benefits.
Since President Obama agreed to talk directly to Iran almost three years ago, he has done more to isolate the Iranian government than President George W. Bush did in eight years in office. By engaging with the Islamic Republic, President Obama called its leaders’ bluff. The Iranian government could no longer say that the U.S. is only interested in threatening and attacking Iran. Much to the disappointment of Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, President Obama recognized the Islamic Republic and its leaders, and the U.S. government sat down and talked to their representatives.
While the P5+1 did not manage to convince the Iranian government to transfer 75 percent of Low Enriched Uranium in Vienna, the Obama administration’s willingness to talk to Iran—and Iran’s refusal to make a deal—enabled the U.S. to show the world (and, importantly, Iranians themselves) that it was Iran’s leaders who were the impediment to reaching a deal. This move also brought Russia and China closer to the position of the U.S., as well as other partners who believed that tougher sanctions needed to be imposed on the Iranian government. The recent news that China has scaled back its investment in Iran’s gas and oil sector should be particularly worrisome for Iran’s leaders.
Obama’s outstretched hand also made an impact on Iran’s domestic politics. According to Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, Obama’s efforts to engage helped power the Green movement’s challenge to the regime. ‘Obama offered a dialog with the Iran,’ Ganji said, ‘and this change in discourse immediately gave rise to that outpouring of sentiment against the Islamic Republic’ after June 2009’s disputed presidential election. Similarly, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi said that, by showing a willingness to engage with Iran, Obama showed Iranians and the world ‘that it is the Iranian regime that doesn’t want to talk.’ The specter of American hostility is a treasured propaganda tool of the Iranian regime. By engaging, President Obama denied them the use of this tool.
Negotiations with Iran have also done much to boost the credibility of the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1 at the expense of the Iranian government. This was demonstrated after the revelation by the U.S. of a secret enrichment site in Fordo, in Central Iran. Had this revelation been made during the Bush era, it would have likely been met with considerably more skepticism. This time, however, the international community was much more receptive, precisely because of Obama’s effort to reach out to the Iranian government. So was the IAEA, whose head at the time—Mohammad El Baradei—investigated the revelation and declared that Iran had operated on ‘the wrong side of the law.’
Perhaps the biggest achievement of negotiations to date has been their facilitation of the imposition of tough international sanctions against the Iranian government and its nuclear program. As a recent IAEA report revealed, these sanctions have been instrumental in slowing the progress of the Iranian program. This view is now shared by former Israeli defense officials such as Gabi Ashkenazi, who in a speech at the Brookings Institution stated that sanctions were the best course of action against Iran. Meanwhile, in a recent visit to the IAEA, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor acknowledged that sanctions against Iran could work. Another Israeli security official, speaking on background in an interview with the authors, said that, while Israelis initially ‘were skeptical about a possible positive outcome of the negotiations’ in respect to the nuclear issue, ‘we recognize that they contributed to building international consensus.’ The fact that such statements are being made by officials of a country skeptical of sanctions speaks volumes.
In short, far from being evidence of ‘naiveté,’ President Obama’s engagement policy has served as an important force multiplier for efforts to pressure the Iranian government. Rather than ‘validating the mullahs,’ as former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty charged, Obama’s policy has in fact further isolated them.
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