With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, the foreign relations between Iran and the United States have thawed slightly. The new government under Rouhani has undertaken multiple diplomatic measures, including the release of several political prisoners, conciliatory statements from Iranian leaders, and even an exchange of letters and a phone call between President Obama and President Rouhani. Rouhani is a political moderate, which is a stark contrast from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After Rouhani’s election, there is now hope that Iran can take a different path, not only by entering negotiations over its nuclear program but also by seizing what appears to be a genuine opportunity for change.
The international community should help foster this opportunity by giving diplomacy a chance to work in Iran. Iran has faced many sanctions from the world due to its defiance of international nuclear weapons laws. The sanctions have been extremely successful in curbing Iran’s influence in the Middle East and stunting their economy. Before the sanctions were implemented, Iran had the capability to sway regional politics and intimidate its neighbors. Now, Iran is completely isolated, with the Assad regime in Syria as its only ally. It will only be a matter of time before the Assad regime collapses, leaving Iran without any allies in the region whatsoever.
Due to the trade sanctions imposed in response to continued nuclear weapons development, Iran has been in a downward economic spiral. The country cannot do business with any reputable bank in the world, or sell its oil to most of the West. They have begun to barter their oil for food and durable goods, sometimes even accepting the local currencies of countries that buy its oil instead of the US dollar. The country is nearly out of foreign reserves and is having trouble meeting its trade demands.
These sanctions have done a successful job of putting pressure on Iranian leaders, and now those leaders seem willing to talk. Combine this with the new, more moderate president of Iran and an atmosphere for dialogue and diplomacy is possible. The Obama Administration is making the right decision in not pursuing further sanctions against Iran, because more sanctions will impede any future diplomatic discussions. Also, by not pushing for more sanctions, Iran’s current position in the international community will stay more or less the same rather than getting worse. If Iran becomes even more isolated than it already is, it could embolden them to ramp up their nuclear operations, which would cause another flare up between Israel and Iran. Any major aerial attacks or preemptive strikes between Israel and Iran should be avoided as much as possible because it could lead to an all-out war between the two nations, and any war in the region would lead to disastrous effects in a humanitarian sense.
New sanctions would create the perception that there is no good will coming from the West. In addition, new sanctions would prompt the political hardliners in Iran to put even more pressure on Rouhani to not negotiate with the U.S. The current sanctions in place have done a great job to bring the two sides to this point. If negotiations collapse or if Iran does not prove to be a fair negotiator, then stricter sanctions can always be applied later. But with Iran appearing reasonable, now would not be the time to push Iran away through more sanctions.
The negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program is an opportunity for both nations to show that diplomacy in the 21st century can still be effective.
Kaushik Rao is a junior political science major from Yorba Linda, California. He is the Opinions section's Economics columnist.