Sanctions Won't End Iran's Nuclear Program

Letter From Tehran


Lawmakers attened a parliament session in Tehran. (Raheb Homavandi / Courtesy Reuters)

With the recent European ban on importing Iranian oil, the West has ratcheted up its pressure on Tehran another notch. The United States argues that the goal is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to ensure that it doesn't weaponize its nuclear program. From Iran's perspective, however, the West's purpose is not to talk but to stop Iran's enrichment of uranium altogether.

Indeed, at the same time that it calls for talks, the West -- and especially the United States -- has continued to implement new sanctions. Many Iranians also believe that the United States is waging a covert war against their country and see the Stuxnet computer worm (which seemed to target industrial equipment in Iran's nuclear facilities) and recent assassinations of Iranian scientists as part of it. Washington's allegations in October 2011 that Tehran was involved in a plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States -- and its subsequent violation of Iran's airspace with an unmanned drone -- have only reinforced Iranian unease.

That ill feeling is an impediment to any serious talks between Iran and the West. Deteriorating U.S.-Iranian relations will weaken the consensus among Iranian decision-makers to go through with negotiations. They see talks as a part of a broader effort to make progress on all issues of common interest, including regional peace and security. But Iran's ability to enrich uranium at home remains the core matter. If the ruling elite suspect that Iran will be forced to give up uranium enrichment for civilian purposes, political leaders will simply reject further talks with the P5 plus 1, made up of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. And the EU's signing on to oil sanctions last month has made rejection even more likely. Until now, the EU had been seen as something of a mediator, but now it seems to be pitted firmly against Iran.

The West's behavior will

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