The unrest in Iran since the June 12 presidential election is,without a doubt,the most significant sequence of events in the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution. It is now clear that Ahmadinejads government manipulated the June election results in part to boost Irans leverage in the anticipated nuclear talks with the US. The intent of the manipulation was to show the world and especially the Obama administration that the hardliners were still popular in Iran.
It is often said that the hardline violence in Iran is the ticket to compromise abroad. But the overall crackdown on the demonstrators will not be sufficient to reassert the legitimacy of Ahmadinejads government even if there is a nuclear deal with the US. On the other hand,the revelation of Irans secret enrichment facility outside Qom has greatly undermined the leverage of any policy-making inside or outside the US government which supports diplomatic and dialogical alternatives to the tougher options of sanctions or military intervention. The chances that diplomacy will convince the Iranian regime to change course and truly abandon its nuclear ambitions seem next to nil.
It is true that Iran has strongly and repetitively denied that its nuclear programme is aimed at developing atomic weapons and insisted it is civilian in nature. The Obama administration,however,while trying to restore the role of diplomacy and to take the military option off the table,is under enormous pressure both domestically and internationally not to pave the way for Iran to advance its nuclear plans with relative impunity. Even before news of the Nobel peace prize to US President Barack Obama,Israel had deep worries about the new US diplomatic engagement with Iran. The concern is the more likely scenario of a US-Iran dialogue that fails to produce conclusive results,sucking the Obama administration into a long process that the Iranian government can use as a cover to advance its nuclear activities. The concern persists despite the US secretary of states reassurance that the international community will not wait indefinitely for evidence that Iran is prepared to live up to its international obligations. It is possible that the new turn of events in Iran brings closer than ever before the possibility that Russia,certainly,and perhaps even China might lend their support to a new round of sanctions. That will make the threat of real consequences for Irans defiance of the UN Security Council much more credible and strengthen the hand of the Western negotiators. But there is no guarantee that Ahmadinejad and his administration will simply roll over and comply with whatever is demanded of them. There is no evidence whatsoever that if increased sanctions are actually applied Iran will dismantle its enrichment programme.
One should not forget that Iran is plagued by political divisions at home,and the latest revelations of the new nuclear site could undercut the international arguments of Ahmadinejads government. Just a month ago,he arrived in New York on very shaky international standing with internal turmoil alive and well in Iran. For that matter,in addition to holding the Iranian government to account for its nuclear ambitions,the Europeans and Americans should use the new negotiations to raise substantive human rights issues in Iran,and not just behind closed doors. Its high time to include Irans human rights violations in the multilateral negotiations with the Iranian government. The absence of strong condemnation of human rights abuses in Iran simply means that Iranian civil society has to fight two fronts,one against human rights violators and another against inattention by the international community. In an isolated country like Iran,where there are limited human rights protections and no human rights mechanisms to bring attention to the plight of victims,the role of international instances in spotlighting abuses becomes even more critical. Many Iranians inside and outside the country believe that the negotiations should not be interpreted as a stamp of approval of Irans grave human rights record. The nuclear negotiations should,therefore,press Iran on human rights abuses and democratisation.
In any event,Irans nuclear programme and the governments defence of it is probably the last thing all Iranians,even the opposition,generally agree on. During the aftermath of the presidential elections in Iran,the protesters have been primarily concerned to curb arbitrariness and strengthen the rule of law in the Islamic Republic. But they have also chanted a slogan on Ahmadinejads blustery rejection of any and all international entreaties regarding uranium enrichment: Ahmadi-ye hasteyi,boro bekhab khasteyi (Nuclear Ahmadi,go to sleep,you are tired).
It goes without saying that the Iranian people can take pride one day in Irans peaceful use of the nuclear energy and its breakthroughs if they see it as putting the country on the pathway to respect and,ultimately,improved relations with the world. But Iranians are significantly less excited now that the nuclear programme appears to be a mere trump card in the hand of hardliners who desire a confrontational foreign policy with no end in sight. One can only hope that the Americans and the Europeans would understand this.
The writer is a Toronto-based Iranian scholar