Iran: Carrots or sticks?

MUSTAFA OZER/AFP Javier Solana, European Union’s foreign affairs head, is in Istanbul today to talk turkey with Ali Larijani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator. Solana comes to the meeting with the wind at his back: On Monday, the EU agreed a total arms embargo, and added further people to the travel ban list – they are banned ...

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602306_070425_solana_05.jpg

MUSTAFA OZER/AFP

Javier Solana, European Union's foreign affairs head, is in Istanbul today to talk turkey with Ali Larijani, Iran's nuclear negotiator. Solana comes to the meeting with the wind at his back:

On Monday, the EU agreed a total arms embargo, and added further people to the travel ban list - they are banned from the EU and their assets are frozen.

MUSTAFA OZER/AFP

Javier Solana, European Union’s foreign affairs head, is in Istanbul today to talk turkey with Ali Larijani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator. Solana comes to the meeting with the wind at his back:

On Monday, the EU agreed a total arms embargo, and added further people to the travel ban list – they are banned from the EU and their assets are frozen.

Accordingly, Larijani is making conciliatory nosies about possible new ideas from Solana, and he may have been given a little more negotiating room by Tehran. As veteran Middle East hand Dennis Ross succinctly explains over at TNR.com, “sticks [have] been more effective than carrots” in dealing with Iran. Why’s that?

Because virtually all members of the Iranian elite, including moderate ones, appreciate the value of having nuclear weapons–they are a symbol of national power, they can be useful for deterring the United States, and they are seen as promoting Iranian dominance throughout the Middle East. No combination of inducements can match the value of having nuclear weapons. But the value of nuclear weapons has to be weighed against the potential cost. If the cost is international isolation and economic deprivation, the picture changes for a significant part of the Iranian elite.

As Iran weighs the potential costs of continued defiance of the international community, Solana’s likely offer—a special definition of “enrichment” that satisfies Iran’s domestic political needs while not posing a nuclear proliferation threat—should become more and more attractive to Iran’s pragmatists. For my money, the best “inside baseball” on just who those pragmatists are is Ray Takeyh’s piece in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. But rather than further attempts to isolate Iran, Takeyh favors a nuanced “détente” between the United States and Iran that he argues will “sideline the radicals and tip Iran’s internal balance of power in their favor.” Ross would lean heavier on the stick. Who’s right?

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