Energy diplomacy: A potential key to rapproachement with Iran

Such an initiative would demonstrate to Iran that the United States is not an implacable enemy but rather is willing to take meaningful steps to support its peaceful aspirations and integration into the international community in return for reciprocal security assurances. If Iranian leaders no longer perceive a foreign threat, whatever defensive motivation they might have for pursuing a nuclear weapons capability would lose momentum. Advocates for a more offensive Iranian foreign policy would in turn face pressure from moderates not to spurn an opportunity for peace through unwarranted belligerence.           

ADVERTISEMENT
Detractors of a rapprochement strategy along these lines will likely argue that offering technology and financial incentives to Iran would constitute appeasement of an implacably hostile regime, that Iran’s political leaders would disdain the offer, or that they would cynically negotiate in order to gain additional time to build their nuclear program.
 
The first two arguments can only be rebutted if the U.S. makes the offer, presenting Iran with generous terms demonstrating goodwill and respect for a proud and sovereign nation. The risk that Iran would use the offer to stall can be addressed by attaching a reasonable timeline to the negotiations, extending the timeline if necessary only on the condition that Iran places strict limits on its enrichment activities and cooperates fully with IAEA inspections in the immediate term.  
 
Getting China to push Iran to the negotiating table
 
While China does not currently view Iran’s expanding nuclear program as a threat substantial enough to warrant truly constricting sanctions, U.S. diplomats should impress upon its leaders that interests diverge and loyalties shift. While a weak and isolated Iran might remain friendly toward China in the short term out of necessity, a nuclear-armed Iran might adopt a more independent, hegemonic foreign policy in the region, presenting energy security complications for a nation whose dependence on the Middle East will only increase as its economy continues to expand.
 
If the United States and European Union could convince China that its interests are actually aligned on Iran, the threat of a more thoroughly constricting sanctions regime might make a rapprochement offer more attractive.
 
As Kenneth Pollack, former director for Persian Gulf affairs at the National Security Council has written in his book A Path Out of the Desert, the U.S. should offer Iran
 
“not just the willingness to end the UNSC sanctions and World Trade Organization membership that the Bush administration has proposed, but major positive incentives like investment guarantees, trade credits, an aid from international financial organizations….
 
Getting Khamene’i to go against his instincts…will require presenting Iran with stark and clear choices: isolation and destitution if it sticks with the hard-liners, acceptance and real prosperity if it is willing to change course. And both because the hard-liners are very powerful and the Iranian people are very proud, only if both the penalties for continued recalcitrance and the benefits of acquiescence are huge are they likely to push Iran’s populace and Khamene’i in the right direction.” (pp.368-369)
 
The key is to avoid backing Iran into a corner with no way out or offering it inadequate incentives that would be viewed as a national humiliation if they were accepted.
 
A renewable energy offer can be summarily dismissed by hard-nosed political realists as a long shot- no substitute for the tempting prestige of a nuclear program –but with incentives enticing enough on the one hand and economic sanctions formidable enough on the other, Iran just might give it some serious consideration. If it does not, we will be left with the same difficult choices.

Buonomo is a former Military Intelligence Officer, U.S. Army. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and Middle East studies from the U.S. Air Force Academy and is preparing to pursue a Master of Arts in international affairs at American University.