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Iran Still Committed to Isolation Instead of Engagement

Blackwell’s explanations emphasize that thus far Iran has apparently remained committed to a policy of isolation even though doing so has proved to not be in the interests of the Islamic Republic, which faces escalating regional instability and new economic pressure in the form of drastically depressed prices of oil, upon which Iran is still overly dependent, according to Blackwell.

The editorial leaves open the possibility that these pressures may yet compel Tehran to shift from willful isolation to serious engagement. This perspective implies support for continuation of a diplomatic approach on the part of the West, though it also seems to praise external pressure in a way that the Obama administration has not, as evidenced by the fact that that administration has taken a strong stance against pending legislation that would trigger more economic sanctions against Iran in the event that negotiations failed or Tehran reneged on a mutual deal.

As might thus be expected, the Obama administration is still expressing continuous optimism about prospects for a nuclear deal. Its engagement with the negotiating process is arguably on display in the fact that Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif unexpectedly met for a second set of bilateral discussion on Wednesday. However, this could equally be interpreted as an indicator of how far the two sides are from overcoming differences and securing a final agreement.

The broader conditions support the latter conclusion, especially when one looks at the Iranian side, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has outlined a series of red lines that his negotiators may not cross. These bar them from compromise on very basic points of negotiation, including whether the Islamic Republic gives up any of its uranium enrichment capacity over the long term. Such uncompromising positions are potentially explained by the account of Iran’s foreign policy objectives provided on Wednesday in an editorial at Counter Punch.

The article by Fariborz Saremi claims that Iran is motivated by three things: the regime’s survival, national security, and the extension of Iranian influence well beyond its borders. Saremi emphasizes that these goals have contributed to the consolidation of Iranian power in places like Syria and Lebanon, via its Shiite proxies. Nevertheless, his perspective largely coincides with that of Blackwell, advocating for Western engagement and pressure in order to encourage a change in Iranian policy.

Saremi also includes Iran’s regional adversaries in this account, saying that they should take care to avoid promoting sectarian conflict in the same way that Tehran has, as doing so may only justify continued Iranian influence over Shiite militias and other such factions. Yet Saremi also warrants that those adversaries are rightfully skeptical about the degree to which Iran will be willing to moderate its positions or take control of foreign policy out of the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

It is not only regional adversaries who have voiced this skepticism. The National Council of Resistance of Iran has similarly expressed concern that the very identity of that regime precludes it from cooperating with nuclear negotiations or engaging constructively in regional affairs. These critics can generally be expected to emphasize international pressure over international negotiations, on the assumption that Iran must be compelled to change policy for the sake of its survival, as opposed to being entrusted with an expanding influence.