Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney focused on asylum and immigration in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a human rights activist focused on the Middle East and Iran.
Last Tuesday, President Obama claimed that “our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran”. Yet I can’t help but think that it is Iran who has put Obama’s diplomacy “to work”, namely using it to obtain its strategic goals. Democratic Senator, Robert Menendez referred to Obama’s remarks on Iran in the State of the Union, saying: “The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran. And it feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization, when they are the ones with the original sin.”
I cannot help but agree with the Senators observations. Let’s examine what was said in the speech and compare it to the reality we find ourselves in.
“For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.”
This claim seems to be directly contradicted by last week’s announcement by Hasan Rouhani that Iran had opened two new nuclear plants. In February of 2014, Iranian Foreign Minister, and Nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif was quoted by CNN as saying, “I can tell you that Iran’s nuclear program will remain intact. We will not close any program.”
The fact is that little has changed over the last decade besides Iran’s ability to continue to buy time and receive extensions from the West.
Obama made a point of addressing the call to reinstitute sanctions on Iran as a means to ensure their adherence to the nuclear deal.
“There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran. But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. “
Obama contradicts himself by stating that all options are “on the table” while simultaneously guaranteeing that the will veto any sanctions bill. The declaration is curious, particularly given that Iran has a long history of non-compliance absent some form of pressure.
Obama claims that new sanctions make no sense. What doesn’t make sense is removing the threat of sanctions, while negotiations are currently ongoing.
The fact is Iran has never been more desperate for sanctions relief. The economy is floundering, and the oil crash has put intense pressure on the regimes budget. Iran is in no position to walk away from the negotiating table, and cannot afford to undergo another round of crippling sanctions.
Obama’s policies have been disappointing, particularly in regards to his cooperation with Iran’s despotic regime. The Iranian people should be his primary partner in negotiations, and he should work to isolate an unpopular government, and push for democratic change in Iran.
The reality is that the removal of the threat of sanctions benefits the regime; it provides them with a lifeline, with no firm guarantee that they will make any long term concessions. In six months to a year, if Iran violates the term of any tentative agreement, they will have secured long term economic relief, prolonged their nuclear program, and leave the West with nothing.