November 6, 2013 | Ottawa Citizen
How to Negotiate with Iran
As the next round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 approaches, Canadians would be wise to temper their hopes for significant progress. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani campaigned for office pledging economic relief, and this promise resonated with both the Iranian people and the power brokers of the regime. However, his mandate does not include bringing Iran into compliance with its international obligations. Rather, it is to persuade the international community that sanctions should be lifted, with Iran offering few, if any, concessions in return.
It is doubtful that Rouhani himself has any desire or intention to relinquish Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This is, after all, the same government loyalist who boasted of being responsible for the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program while dragging out negotiations with the Europeans in 2004.
Yet even if Rouhani became a bona fide moderate overnight and now stands opposed to the regime’s nuclear pursuits, he does not have the influence to change Iran’s course. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remain firmly in control of the country and have given no indication they are prepared to compromise on Iran’s illicit nuclear program.
The IRGC is Iran’s political, military and economic powerhouse. It sponsors and commits terrorism in its ongoing efforts to export the Islamic Revolution. It arrests, imprisons, tortures and executes domestic dissidents to protect the regime at home. The Guards also stand to benefit most from the nuclear program, which would make Iran a dominant regional power overnight. This is why its leaders have been adamant that, contrary to Rouhani’s public assertions, there is no room for a nuclear compromise.
Consequently, it is the IRGC — not President Rouhani — that must be viewed as the central player while the West negotiates with Iran.
According to Iranian expert Ali Alfoneh, the most dangerous approaches to take with IRGC commanders such as Mohammad Ali Jafari and Qasem Soleimani are compromise and silence. The 2007 seizure and detention of British soldiers off the Iran-Iraq coast, the regular acts of terrorism in Iraq and the 2011 attempted assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. are but a few examples of provocations authorized by the Guards that were largely met with silence from the West. This has emboldened the IRGC leadership, and reinforced its perception that the United States is a declining power that lacks the will to respond.
That perception must change. The West’s negotiating position must be firm. Iran must not be allowed the tools, time or diplomatic cover to pursue nuclear weapons capability.
The first step is to maintain and even strengthen sanctions against the regime. Tighter sanctions could slow down the rate at which Iran is acquiring breakout capability, and provide more time for the West to construct a coherent plan. In a best-case scenario, increasing sanctions would cause enough economic pain to compel the Iranian regime to surrender its nuclear program outright.
But more can be done, and countries like Canada have a role to play.
For one, the IRGC should be slapped with a comprehensive terrorist designation in Western countries unless it ceases its terrorist activity and sponsorship. To its credit, Canada has listed the IRGC’s Quds Force as a terrorist entity, but the designation should extend to the IRGC as a whole. Other countries should follow Canada’s lead.
Canadian victims of Iranian terror (including victims of Hamas and Hezbollah violence) should take advantage of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and file civil lawsuits against Iran. Iran is currently deemed a state sponsor of terror by the Canadian government, and this listing should stand until Iran no longer supports terror and has paid all outstanding judgments against it under the act.
Iran’s notorious human rights record, which has not meaningfully improved following Rouhani’s election, must also be addressed. To that end, Ottawa could utilize the Special Economic Measures Act. SEMA is already being used to sanction the Iranian regime for its proliferation-related infringements, and there is precedent for applying the statute to governments — such as Syria, Zimbabwe, Burma and Sudan — for their human rights violations.
Finally, diplomatic relations with Iran should not be restored until agreements on these other issues have been reached. The United Kingdom is reportedly planning to restart diplomatic ties with Iran, only two years after the attack on the British embassy in Tehran and before any progress in negotiations has been made. And some Iranian-Canadians have expressed concern that Iran is being allowed to rebuild its political presence, which in recent years has been a dangerous one, in Canada.
Until Iran has agreed to comply with its most basic international obligations — related to nuclear, terrorism, and human rights issues — the West must unite in applying unrelenting pressure on the regime. Otherwise, there is little chance of success in the impending negotiations.
Sheryl Saperia is the Director of Policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think-tank focused on national security and foreign policy.