If you have the power to rewrite history, you can make anything true.
But the part of Obama’s recent State of the Union address that Iran took issue with was Obama’s declaration that “. . . it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program — and rolled back parts of that program — for the very first time in a decade. . . . The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible.”
That these sanctions are an act of violence against innocent civilians has always been recognized by the U.S. The sanctions harm, not the Iranian government, but the Iranian people. And this attack on the Iranian people has always been at least part of the intended purpose of the sanctions. Both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have made public confessions of that role of the sanctions on Iran. When she was still Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton admitted that causing concern to the Iranian people is part of the goal of sanctions: “So we hope the Iranian people will make known their concerns … so my message to Iranians is do something about this.” Vice-President Biden also revealed that the U.S. hopes to exploit the harm sanctions cause the people of Iran: “We have also made it clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation.”
And Iran has always made clear that such violence will never pressure them to surrender their right under international law to enrich uranium for peaceful, civilian purposes or to make any other “opportunity possible.” As Hossein Musavian, the former spokesperson for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, has said, “. . . the grand civilization and culture of Iran has made the Iranian nation attach great importance to respect and honor, resisting any form of coercion and humiliation”. That military threats will not work on Iran was reiterated by Ayatollah Khamenei when he said recently, “You [Americans] point the gun at Iran and say either negotiate or we pull the trigger! You should know that pressure and negotiations do not go together, and the [Iranian] nation will not be intimidated by such things.”
Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham says of Obama’s linking of sanctions with results at the negotiating table that “The delusion of sanctions having an effect on Iran’s motivation for nuclear negotiations is based on a false narration of history.”
Obama’s claim that sanctions helped “[halt] the progress of Iran’s nuclear program” and helped in “preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” are themselves a misrepresentation since every National Intelligence Estimate (N.I.E.) since 2007 has concluded that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. The 2007 N.I.E. made the assertion with “high confidence,” and the most recent N.I.E. reasserted it with “even more evidence to support that assessment,” according to sources of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
But the real danger is not just the misrepresentation of the facts, but that Obama’s creative writing and revisionism produce a historical record that teaches that violence works.
The threat of violence through sanctions and military readiness did not compel a change in Iranian policy or willingness to come to the diplomatic table. Iran was always willing to come to the table. The two are now at the table not because Iran changed at all, but because America did. And violence had nothing to do with it, as Iran promised all along that it wouldn’t. The change had more to do with the American intelligence community’s contradiction of White House claims due to a determination not to get blamed for misleading America into war again as it did in Iraq, the military’s unwillingness to endorse strikes on Iran, unsuccessful military campaigns elsewhere that had spread the military too thin, an increasing public distaste for further military misadventures and an artful diplomatic courtship by newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Sanctions can only be represented as the cause of Iran’s willingness to participate in nuclear negotiations by rewriting history in order to place the sanctions before the willingness. But since the willingness predates the sanctions, the sanctions cannot be the cause.
In a September 18th NBC interview, Rouhani reminded his American audience that “We have time and again said that under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever.” As he said, Iran has made this assurance “time and again.” In November 2012, Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clearly reminded the Washington Post that
For power stations, we need uranium of 3.5 percent, and we are producing that fuel. For the Tehran reactor, we need uranium grade of 20 percent, and we are producing that. We have no other requirements. Of course at the beginning we had no interest to produce uranium grade 20 percent. But the West refrained from giving us that uranium, so we had to start producing uranium grade 20 percent. . . . Even if they gave us now uranium grade 20 percent, we would not continue with the production of this fuel. . . . We don’t want to produce uranium of 20 percent. Because they did not give us that uranium, we had to make our own investments. If they start to give us that uranium today, we will stop production. . . . If they give us uranium grade 20 percent, we would stop production. . . . I repeat: If you give us uranium grade 20 percent now, we will stop production.
Ahmadinejad’s claim about the West’s refusal to give Iran uranium enriched to 20% for civilian medical purposes is a reference to the West’s blocking of Iran’s legal request to the International Atomic Energy Association to help it purchase enriched uranium to replenish its diminishing medical stocks—so that it wouldn’t have to enrich its own: supposedly the goal of the West.
Even then, Iran did not begin enriching uranium to 20 percent. Instead, Iran agreed in principal to America’s 2009 proposed nuclear swap that would have seen Iran sending its 3.5% enriched uranium out of the country where it would be enriched into fuel rods for the medical reactor and sent back to Iran, avoiding the need for Iran to further enrich uranium. Iran agreed in principal, but then did not agree on the details, because the Iranian leadership realized her negotiating partner was being disingenuous: it was a trick.
According to both Scott Ritter, who was a leading U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, and investigative journalist Gareth Porter, the real objective of the American swap plan was to get every bit of the 3.5% enriched uranium out of Iran to buy the U.S. several months, or even a year. And there was another problem from Iran’s perspective. The American plan called for Iran to send away all its 3.5% uranium immediately even though it would take a year, or even several years, to receive the 19.5% enriched uranium crucially needed for its medical reactor. But that would defy the whole point of the plan and leave Iran without medical isotopes for imaging and treating cancer and forcing its medical facility to shut down. So Iran made a counterproposal that maintained the principal of the proposal while circumventing the American treachery. Iran would send out its 3.5% uranium in batches, and when the enriched uranium for medical isotopes was returned, they would send out the next batch: a so-called “simultaneous exchange”. America ignored Iran’s counterproposal.
Iran then once again showed its willingness to engage in negotiations when it agreed to a very similar deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey. Iran was willing to agree not only in principal this time, but in detail, because the deal was essentially the same as the previous one minus the American deception. But, once again, America and her allies ignored Iran’s offer and reprimanded Brazil and Turkey for meddling above their weight class.
Clear demonstrations of Iran’s willingness to negotiate go back even earlier. In 2003, Britain, France and Germany convinced Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and implement the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Iran agreed to temporarily suspend all enrichment. A second round of negotiations would work toward a final settlement that would allow Iran to enrich in return for guarantees that its nuclear program would remain a civilian program: much like the current agreement.
But once Iran had suspended enrichment, the Europeans refused to negotiate. They changed the terms and insisted that the only acceptable deal was one in which Iran agreed to a total cessation of enrichment. Recognizing that they had been betrayed by the West, Ayatollah Khamenei terminated the talks.
Perhaps most importantly, in 2003, Iran offered America even more than she is offering now. In a comprehensive proposal approved by Ayatollah Khamenei and then President Khatami, and passed on to the Americans through the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Iran offered to welcome international inspectors, make her nuclear program entirely transparent and to sign the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty on top of having already signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty. Not only was Iran willing to grant all of these nuclear assurances, the proposal alsooffered to end all support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and to support the disarmament of Hezbollah and its transformation into a political party. Iran also offered to work with the U.S. against all terrorist organizations, including al-Qa’ida and to accept the Saudi plan for recognizing the State of Israel and to normalize peaceful relations with Israel. America never responded to the Iranian proposal. And this time they chastised the Swiss for meddling above their weight class.
American sanctions did not compel Iran to back down and finally come to the diplomatic table to negotiate because Iran was always at the table. Obama is rewriting history by placing the sanctions chronicologically prior to Iran’s willingness to negotiate. The historical record clearly indicates that Iran was always willing to negotiate. Thus, Obama creates the dangerous illusion that threats of violence through sanctions that harm civilians and through military options that remain always on the table are effective means to bring about change. This illusion legitimizes violence. But it was not Iran that changed because of American violence, it was America that changed and finally joined Iran at the table of nonviolence and diplomacy.