Thursday, April 29, 2010
From our friends at www.STRATFOR.com
Iran Lays Out Its Terms
IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD said Tuesday he would be sending U.S. President Barack Obama a letter, the contents of which would be made public in the coming days. In a live interview on state television, Ahmadinejad said that Iran was the “only chance” for Obama to salvage his administration’s position in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iranian president remarked, “The best way for him [Obama] is to accept and respect Iran and enter into cooperation. Many new opportunities will be created for him.”
This is not the first time Ahmadinejad has offered his American counterpart cooperation in an attempt to extract concessions. But he has never been so direct about telegraphing his view that the United States is in a difficult position in the Middle East and South Asia, nor has he offered Iran’s help so that the United States can extricate itself from the region. What is important is that the Iranian leader is pretty accurate in both his description and prescription.
Washington is indeed working toward a military drawdown in Iraq, and needs to make progress in Afghanistan within a very short time frame. Iran borders both these countries, where the Islamic republic has significant influence. Cognizant of Obama’s domestic political imperatives, Ahmadinejad said, “He [Obama] has but one chance to stay as head of the state and succeed. Obama cannot do anything in Palestine. He has no chance. What can he do in Iraq? Nothing. And Afghanistan is too complicated. The best way for him is to accept and respect Iran and enter into cooperation. Many new opportunities will be created for him.”
The Iranian president is correct in that a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely unlikely. In terms of Iraq, the Iranians recently signaled that they are prepared to accept a sizeable Sunni presence in the next Iraqi coalition government. This will facilitate the U.S. need for a balance of power in Iraq, thereby allowing Washington to exit the country. Similarly, the Americans cannot achieve the conditions for withdrawal in Afghanistan without reaching an understanding with the Iranians.
“In exchange for helping the United States, the Islamic republic first wants international recognition as a legitimate entity.”
Therefore, the maverick Iranian leader was not engaging in his usual rhetoric when he said, “Mr. Obama has only one chance and that is Iran. This is not emotional talk but scientific. He has but one place to say that ‘I made a change and I turned over the world equation’ and that is Iran.” So, what exactly does Ahmadinejad want in return for helping the leader of his country’s biggest foe?
The answer lies in the following comment by Ahmadinejad: “Acknowledging Iran would benefit both sides and as far as Iran is concerned, we are not after any confrontation.” The Iranians are trying to bring closure to their efforts of the last eight years in which they have been trying to exploit the U.S. wars being fought in their neighborhood to achieve their geopolitical objectives. Ahmadinejad is laying out his terms.
In exchange for helping the United States, the Islamic republic first wants international recognition as a legitimate entity. Second, the global community needs to recognize the Iranian sphere of influence in the Islamic world. Third, and most importantly, while it is prepared to normalize ties with the United States, Iran wants to retain its independent foreign policy.
Put another way, Iran wants to be treated by the Obama administration along the lines of how U.S. President Richard Nixon’s administration dealt with China during the early 1970s. The demand for respect is a critical one. Iran is not interested in rapprochement with the United States along the lines of what Libya did in 2003 when it gave up its nuclear weapons arsenal in exchange for normalized relations with the United States and its Western allies.
Iran is not close to crossing the nuclear threshold yet, but it wants to retain that as a future option as per any deal. Iran has been emboldened by the fact that the United States is neither in a position to exercise the military option to prevent the Persian state from going nuclear, nor is it able to put together an effective sanctions regime that could affect a change in Tehran’s behavior. It is therefore using the regional dynamic as leverage to try and extract the maximum possible concessions on the nuclear issue.
On a further note, an arrangement based on the concept of “accept us for who we are” is critical to the interests of the Iranian regime for two reasons. First, it gets rid of the external threat of regime change. Second, it allows the Iranian regime to demonstrate on the domestic front that its aggressive foreign policy has paid off, which completely undermines its Green movement opponents.
It is too early to predict whether Iran can achieve its goals or not. It has moved to the final round of its efforts to use American weakness to its advantage, and at this stage it does hold a strong deck of cards.