Sick has proposed a sound path, which means that it has no hope of being adopted in Washington. It would involve private bilateral discussions by credible negotiators for both sides based on a mutually agreed-upon agenda. These would be followed by full-blown negotiations under the existing P5+1 framework (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain -- plus Germany).
Considering the frantic post-2009 seesawing of sanctions, threats, cyber attacks, military surges, and colossal mutual incomprehension, no one in his right mind would expect a pattern of "mutual respect" to emerge easily out of Washington's "dual track" approach.
It took Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, research scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and spokesperson for the Iranian nuclear negotiating team from 2003 to 2005, to finally explain it all last August in a single sentence: "The history of Iran's nuclear program suggests that the West is inadvertently pushing Iran toward nuclear weapons." Chas Freeman, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, agrees, suggesting in a recent speech that Iran now "seems to be reenacting Israel's clandestine weapons development program of five decades ago, developing capabilities to build and deliver nuclear weapons while denying that it intends actually to do any such thing."
What makes these developments even more absurd is that a solution to all this madness exists. As I've written elsewhere, to satisfy the concerns of the West regarding Iran's 20% stockpile of enriched uranium,
"a mutually acceptable solution for the long term would entail a ‘zero stockpile.' Under this approach, a joint committee of the P5+1 and Iran would quantify the domestic needs of Iran for use of 20% enriched uranium, and any quantity beyond that amount would be sold in the international market or immediately converted back to an enrichment level of 3.5%. This would ensure that Iran does not possess excess 20% enriched uranium forever, satisfying the international concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. It would be a face-saving solution for all parties as it would recognize Iran's right to enrichment and would help to negate concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons."
Time to Hit the New Silk Road(s)
The current U.S. strategy is not exactly a raging success. Economist Djavad Salehi-Esfahani has explained how Tehran's theocratic rulers continue to successfully manage the worst effects of the sanctions and a national currency in free fall by using the country's immense oil and natural gas wealth to subsidize essential imports. Which brings us to the bedrock question of this -- or possibly any other -- moment: Will Obama 2.0 finally admit that Washington doesn't need regime change in Tehran to improve its relationship with that country?
Only with such an admission (to itself, if not the world) are real negotiations leading to a Wall of Mistrust-blasting deal possible. This would undoubtedly include a genuine détente, an acceptance of Iran's lawful pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program, guarantees that the result would not be a covert weapons project, and a turning away from the possibility of a devastating war in the Persian Gulf and the oil heartlands of the Greater Middle East.
Theoretically, it could also include something else: an Obama "Nixon in China" moment, a dramatic journey or gesture by the U.S. president to decisively break the deadlock. Yet as long as a barrage of furiously misinformed anti-Iran hawks in Washington, in lockstep with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Israeli government, deploy a relentless PR offensive burning with incendiary rhetoric, "red lines," deadlines, and preemptive sabotage of the P5+1 negotiations, such a moment, such a gesture, will remain the faintest of dreams.
And even such an elusive "Obama in Tehran" moment would hardly be the end of the story. It would be more like a salutary twist in the big picture. To understand why, you need to grasp just how crucial Iran's geopolitical positioning is. After all, in energy and other terms that country is the ultimate crossroads of Eurasia, and so the pivot of the world. Strategically, it straddles the supply lines for a sizeable part of the globe's oil and gas reserves and is a privileged hub for the distribution of energy to South Asia, Europe, and East Asia at a moment when both China and India are emerging as potential great powers of the twenty-first century.