From beginning to end (including questions) this “Engaging Iran” discussion at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is worth watching. Chaired by Mark Fitzpatrick, the panel featured the Rt Hon Lord Lamont of Lerwick, Sir Richard Dalton and Mahan Abedin. You can read IISS’s summary of the event here, but a few quick notes of my own:
- Lamont, the former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer and now chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber, argues that while U.S. sanctions on Iran make life harder for business people, they are not changing the government’s behavior or bringing down the regime (he uses Cuba as an example of how sanctions have been unsuccessful, noting that the government would have likely fallen a long time ago had sanctions been removed). Lamont also notes that sanctions have forced Iranian businessmen to deal with the revolutionary guard in order to bypass them. In this way sanctions are bringing the people closer to the regime, rather than distancing them from it.
- Lamont argues that the best way to deal with Iran is through a “combination of pressure with incentives”, adding that Iran’s security needs should also be considered. “Ttalking about Iran today without remembering the Iran-Iraq war is rather like talking about Britain in the late 1930s without remembering WWI,” he said. Lamont reminds us that while Iran’s recent history informs its antagonism towards the occupying forces around its borders, it still cooperated with the U.S. during the invasion of Afghanistan.
- British-Iranian journalist, Mahan Abedin, made some interesting comments about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which he believes are geared towards nuclear latency, or know-how, rather than weaponization. He notes that Iran’s use of proxies has greatly benefited it security-wise as a deterrent, adding that if not for them, Israel would have attacked it. Isolated diplomatically and geopolitically, Iran’s resulting lack of self-confidence, notes Abedin, is the main reason why it is pursuing nuclear latency and security through proxies. If it can achieve nuclear latency, its relationship to the region and the U.S. may change, says Abedin, since it would no longer be solely focused on safeguarding its security.
- Former British ambassador to Iran and an Associate Fellow at Chatham House, Sir Richard Dalton, notes that while both parties are on narrow and confined diplomatic “tramlines”, there is still time to negotiate a deal that will satisfy the requirements of the U.S. and Iran. This deal would begin with acceptance of Iran’s nuclear programme within operational limits and with the export of enriched uranium and later imports of materials to be allowed when Iran has a genuine need for them for its civil nuclear energy industry.
- All panelists agreed that while sanctions produce social consequences, they will not achieve the political aim of ending Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions.
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