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No More Incentives for Iran

Incentives remain at the core of the negotiating strategy which the United States and its allies have toward the Islamic Republic of Iran and its nuclear program. Tracing the Western approach is an exercise in frustration as retired diplomats and Iran’s apologists blame the United States for Iran’s failure to make a deal, even as the pot which American diplomats offer grows increasingly rich.

Too often, once a diplomatic initiative is begun, the process becomes more important than the results. Sometimes it is useful to revert to the 100,000 foot level and question basic assumptions. First, does Iranian behavior suggest that incentives work? The answer is no: Since German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel unveiled the concept of “Critical Engagement” back in 1992, successive generations of European and American governments have been trying to entice Iran. Sometimes they referred to a China model, in which economic liberalization would lead (in theory) to political liberalization; at other times they suggested that returning the Iranian regime to the community of nations would lead it to become a more responsible partner; and still other times they were downright mercantilist, trying to buy Iranian compliance. While the Iranian regime was always willing to encourage a sweetening of the pot, at no time has its behavior suggested that such a strategy will work.

Indeed, the obsessive American approach to trying to bribe Iran only humiliates the United States in the eyes of Iranian officials. The simple facts of the matter are these:

  • The Iranian nuclear program is in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement and with multiple International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) findings and with several United Nations Security Council resolutions. There really should be no ifs, ands, or buts when it comes to American flexibility.
  • Many diplomats believe that a give-and-take should form the basis of diplomatic negotiations. It should be increasingly difficult for these diplomats to defend the process, for while the European Union and United States have offered to give and give and give some more, the Iranians have not reciprocated. Why is it that the Iranian government does not itself offer some incentives?

The simple facts are these:

  • The Iranian government has repeatedly approached talks insincerely, and has no intention of forfeiting its illicit nuclear weapons program.
  • After two decades of diplomacy, Iranian authorities know what they need to do. Countless meetings do not elucidate it for them. It is time Western diplomats underline a choice: Tehran can abandon its nuclear program, or they can face the consequences. Rather than let the Islamic Republic profit off its defiance, the most productive thing congressmen and diplomats should do is outline just exactly what those consequences will be.


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