Controlling Rival Hypothesis Underlies US Proposal of Talks to Iran
Iran Review -(TUESDAY, APRIL 30, 2013)
Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Senior Expert on strategic Issues
A cursory glance at the approach taken by various administrations in the United States to interaction with Iran will show that influenced by conditions in international arena as well as domestic conditions in the United States, they have been usually forced to temporarily resort to the idea of proposing negotiations with Iran, though with different definitions of negotiation in mind. Those definitions have been, naturally, influenced by the United States’ general goals in various sectors as well as the Americans’ assessment of their country’s position in view of geopolitical developments and events. As a result, state-run and non-state political circles in the United States have regularly and periodically expanded their estimates and defined new measures to be taken in order to realize the national interests of the United States.
Entering the Pacific region
In view of the above facts, any proposal for negotiation with Iran which has been offered by the American statesmen in the past few months should be evaluated in the light of the latest strategic developments, strategic considerations, as well as the multilayered and multifaceted approach and diplomacy taken by the Americans to the Islamic Republic. It is quite known that the United States has been making great efforts recently to change its sphere of influence from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, so that as a result of such a geopolitical change, they would be able to impose their dominance over major Asian powers. With these considerations in mind and also due to remarkable changes in energy and technological sectors as well as redefinition of its security and military environment, the United States has carefully planned its priorities and urgencies. The issue of imposing sanctions on Iran is no more related to the nuclear dossier of Iran, but the United States is actually aiming to use sanctions as a means of pushing Iran out of international energy markets. In other words, sanctions against Iran should be enforced in such a way as to make way for the regulation of global energy prices in order to render the new US technologies for the production of fossil fuels economically feasible.
From this viewpoint, the Americans are trying to define their proposal of direct talks to Iran within the framework of strategic changes in their foreign policy and take good advantage of it. Therefore, proposing negotiations as a tactic is just part of the road map they are currently following. In practice, however, the United States has not been able to use the true capacity of diplomacy in order to engage in constructive interaction with Iran. By taking an instrumental approach to the best way for interacting with Iran, the United States has practically given birth to fundamental doubts in this regard which have further increased the height of the distrust wall which exists between the two sides. The US administration should understand that such an approach and subsequent measures taken to use negotiations with Iran as a tactic are not compatible with the position and standards as well as the influential standing of the Islamic Revolution at international as well as regional levels. It seems that given the lack of actual change in the US behavior, Washington is trying to take zigzag and contradictory measures in order to manage the strategic calculations of its international rivals and to adapt those calculations to its own strategic changes.
The change in US strategy
A careful reflection on the situation in the Middle East will reveal that today the concept of energy security is changing in the Middle East. In the past, the energy security for the United States meant optimal management as well as production and supply of energy. However, in view of technological advances in the United States as well as breakthroughs in the field of the extraction of energy resources and shale oil, the United States need for the Middle East energy resources will change in future years and they will actually become needless of the Middle East as far as energy supply is concerned.
Another point is that the United States wants to emerge as a different seller and distributor of energy in the global energy market. Therefore, the issue of imposing sanctions on Iran is not solely related to the nuclear dossier anymore, but the sanctions against Iran energy sector aim to phase Iran out of the global energy market, thus, launching a soft attack against Iran’s energy resources and advantages. In other words, the sanctions against Iran should be enforced in a special way in order to allow for Washington to regulate global energy prices in such a way that the United States’ new technology for the extraction and production of fossil fuel would be economically feasible. On the other hand, another part of the US policy, which will be implemented in later stages of its plan, is to control such global rivals as China. In the meantime, by redefining its position in determining the global energy price strategy, Washington is actually trying to block Russia’s strategy and prevent Moscow from having any claim to be the leading supplier of energy in the world.
Therefore, the concept of energy security in the Middle East will be defined through a major shift in the arrangement of rivaling powers in the near future. When considering all these conditions into account, the analyst should take a more comprehensive approach. In the absence of such a comprehensive approach to the United States strategy, it would not be possible to consider a single index or component as the main index of the United States foreign policy performance. The United States is still sticking to its confrontational approach and has no immediate plan to change it for an interactive approach. In response to their offer of talks to Iran, the Americans have frequently received the same message from Iran that any positive answer to their call would depends on a real change in the United States behavior, not a simple change in positions.
Negotiations within framework of taking secondary advantage
Of course, there are times when certain American personalities continuously use all kinds of political interactions with the outside world as a test of their country’s foreign policy performance. As a result, they have been frequently accusing their incumbent statesmen of squandering opportunities offered to them to interact with Iran. Some analysts believe that the US government has not achieved an adequate, trustworthy and sustainable conclusion which would be upheld by firm premises, about the actual capacities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They argue that as long as the US government is sticking to the theory of “controlling rival hypothesis” it would not be able to put its trust in ideas that are proposed to it.
The degree of optimism or pessimism toward the idea of negotiations is usually determined on the basis of adequate understanding of both sides’ behavior. Therefore, at present, many American media, think tanks as well as decision-making circles are trying to approach negotiation with Iran from the viewpoint of its secondary gain. In other words, they value negotiation not on the basis of its final result, but as a means of containment to be used against Iran. We still observe that the behavior of the United States foreign policy apparatus in various strategic and geopolitical areas is at odds with positions taken, statements issued, and even some letters wrote by various American political officials. Such contradictory manifestations and the conflict between the United States words and acts have, naturally, made the Iranian side be seriously on its guard in the face of any proposal from Washington. The same duality in behavior has been the reason behind the latest remarks by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei when elaborating on optimism toward negotiations with the United States.
Multifaceted process of decision-making in United States
On the other hand, the multifaceted nature of decision-making process in the US government, which is due to existence of different powers vested in and various viewpoints cherished by the US Congress and the president about Iran, has actually created many obstacles on the way of practical enforcement of the US foreign policy. For example, the latest round of nuclear talks [between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers] in [the Kazakh] city of Almaty clearly proved that the United States does not have adequate jurisdiction and capacity to implement policies to remove anti-Iran sanctions even in a limited fashion. The Americans are still incapable of achieving necessary consensus on a single issue free from the impact and influence of third parties, which are topped by the pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States, especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As a result of the interference of the AIPAC in the process of the formulation of the US policies in connection with Iran, the lobby has practically stripped the politicians, who genuinely want to defend the national interests of the United States, of the ability to take suitable positions on Iran which would be commensurate with the real status of Iran in the world politics. Therefore, the existing problem is not Iran’s problem, but is a problem for the government of the United States.
If the Americans are really willing to get past the stage of “tactical negotiations” and enter into “reliable negotiations,” they should be able to correct their foreign policy behavior and then distance from the influence of the Israeli lobbies, which aim to undermine any opportunity for possible talks with Iran. However, in practice the Americans have been trying in their propaganda campaign to make the world believe that they support negotiations with Iran while, on the other hand, endeavor to prove their loyalty to the AIPAC and Israel. This dual behavior clearly proves that in the short term and in view of domestic and international conditions, the United States will have to resort to the idea of negotiations only as a tactic, which it will superficially use to convince the global public opinion.
The reason behind close interaction
As said before, the Americans are doing their best to take multiple advantages of possible negotiation with Iran. In other words, the goals that the United States seeks to achieve through negotiation are multiple and multilayered. One of the main goals pursued by the American officials is to “update their estimate” on Iran’s resolve and ability for bargaining. As a result, the United States government receives assessments about Iran from both American sources and rival countries, and uses them to determine what step it should take next and how to make up for the weaknesses it feels in various areas. This is why the United States prefers close interaction with Iran in order to be able to make a correct assessment of Iran’s resolve and capacities. In fact, Washington has pursued this goal at various junctures.
Another major goal pursued by politicians at the White House is to influence the public opinion in Iran. The United States has regularly taken a hostile approach to Iran within international and regional political environment. However, in public and through propaganda, Washington tries to pass itself as the pacifist side in order to slow down and reduce Iran’s power and deterrent reaction in the arena of soft confrontation with the United States. Taking advantage of various opinion polls, the American officials monitor the consequences and results of their policies in order to produce a theoretical gap and take necessary steps to deceive the global public opinion. On the one hand, the United States announces that it seeks a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear issue while, on the other hand, the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel travels to Israel to offer new assistance to it. Once in Israel, Hagel announced that the United States was planning to give new military facilities to Tel Aviv. By doing so, the United States is practically putting itself in a position of partnership in a possible conflict with Iran and Hagel clearly announced that the US aid for Israel is meant to send a clear message to Iran.
The above facts prove that the United States has not given up its confrontational approach to Iran and is not ready to pursue an approach of interaction with the Islamic Republic yet. As for their offer of talks with Iran, they have frequently received Iran’s message that any positive answer by Iranian side to the United States’ offer of talks depends on a tangible change in the US behavior, not a simple change of position. This change of behavior is the factor which can bring about a change in conditions and the overall atmosphere which governs interactions between the two sides. It is only through such a change that the way could be paved for engagement in hope-inspiring negotiation. The logic of politics and the need to protect its national interests require Iran to consider the offer of negotiations by the United States as a tactic as far as a serious and meaningful change has not been observed in the foreign policy behavior of the United States.