As we witness the unseemly blame game between the U.S. and Iran over who was responsible for the failure to reach a nuclear agreement last week in Geneva, several points are worth considering.
- The powerful international anti-Iran coalition (Israel and the Gulf states) can exert significant influence and seems determined to wreck any possibility of rapprochement between Iran and the West.
- The inside story of what happened in Geneva last weekend is not known yet, but it seems that the government of France was chiefly responsible for scuttling the deal. France’s motivations are unclear, but the prospect of lucrative arms deals with the Gulf states could be a factor.
- The bash-Iran caucus in the U.S. Congress has been given a boost and seems determined to rush ahead with additional sanctions legislation that could further endanger the prospects for a negotiated solution.
- The negative statements and accusations between U.S. and Iranian officials this past week do not augur well for building the atmosphere of respect and trust that is necessary to reach political agreement.
The latter point is especially important. Arms control agreements depend upon political trust and the willingness of states to cooperate for mutual advantage. Objectively the United States and Iran have plenty of self-interested reasons for working together to advance security in the region, as Thomas Friedman wrote the other day in the New York Times. Whether they can overcome the legacy of mistrust and the organized resistance of the anti-Iran coalition remains to be seen.
Meanwhile the question needs to be asked, what is the alternative? Military strikes that would be disastrous and make matters much worse? Continued sanctions that weaken the Rouhani government domestically and impose further hardship on the Iranian people?
Diplomacy is the only option and it must be continued until a nuclear deal is reached.