Russia Rejects New Iran Sanctions

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Iran's President says his country will not budge one iota on its controversial nuclear program. That program is back in the spotlight thanks to a new report by the UN's Nuclear Agency. The IAEA says there is credible evidence that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The Iranian government continues to insist that its nuclear program is peaceful. The new report has led to fresh calls to strengthen international sanctions against Iran. Karim Sadjadpour is an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He says the report might complicate Tehran's relationship with its allies.

Karim Sadjadpour: This report is going to make it more difficult for Russia and China to continue to vouch for Iran's peaceful nuclear intentions, but I think Russia and China will continue to argue that the only way to resolve this issue is diplomacy, not coercion. So, I don't see the basic facts on the ground changing. What I would further argue is that, for those who are cynical about Iran's nuclear ambitions, no additional proof is necessary. And for those who are cynical about American intentions vis-a -vis Iran, no additional proof is sufficient.

Werman: That sounds like the eternal standoff. I mean, stepping back, what will it take in the long run for the US and the Iranians to sit down?

Sadjadpour: I think the challenge you have from the vantage point of the US government is that you're dealing with a regime in Tehran who sees their opposition to the United States as central to their identity. I think there are now 3 symbolic pillars of their identity as a regime, and that's animosity towards the United States, animosity towards Israel, and the veil — the hijab for women. So, I think the challenge for the US government is how do you go about reaching a modus vivendi; how do you reach a rapprochement with a regime in Tehran which needs you as an adversary? And that's the challenge for any US government whether you are Republican or Democrat. So, my sense is that moving forward US policy towards Iran is going to increasingly resemble US foreign policy towards the Soviet Union in the 1980"²s. I think the challenge will be to contain our dispute with Iran, contain Iran itself until the regime is eventually forced to change under the weight of its own internal contradictions and economic malaise, or the regime essentially changes like we've seen in parts of the Arab world now.

Werman: Will this report and the reaction to it from the West accentuate the deep internal divisions among Iran's rulers? I'm wondering if there are divisions over what this report says in the Iranian street, as well.

Sadjadpour: There was a very telling moment after the US-led or the NATO-led intervention in Libya. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei gave a speech, and he said that Muammar Gaddafi's main mistake was giving up his nuclear program, because when he gave up his nuclear program he made himself vulnerable to this NATO intervention. So, sometimes when you read between the lines of Iranian officials, you get a sense that they believe that if they were to acquire nuclear weapon it would actually alleviate the pressure against them rather than augment it. When it comes to the Iranian people — the proverbial Iranian street- there hasn't been any open debate about the cost and benefits of this nuclear program. I think if they were…

Werman: And that's because they don't care, or because there is no disagreement?

Sadjadpour: The way the Iranian government has framed this issue is that the "Imperialist West" wants to deprive Iran of this wonderful civilian nuclear energy technology. The reality is that this nuclear program for Iran has had enormous costs — tens of billions of dollars of sunk costs, not to mention the tens of billions of dollars that Iran has lost from sanctions. But, I think very few Iranians have been aware of that cost-benefit analysis. And, as a former Iranian official once put it several years ago — he said that if you were to ask the average Iranian whether they want a nuclear program, everyone would say yes; and if you were to ask the follow-up and say, "Okay, well what is exactly a nuclear program?", very few people would be able to explain to you what it is. That's the testament to the way the regime has limited information. And it's also a testament to Iranian nationalism and the sense that, historically, the great powers of the world, be it Britain, the United States, Russia, have wanted to keep Iran down for their own benefit. I don't think that's true anymore, but that narrative still has a lot of currency within the Iranian body politic.

Werman: Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking with us from Washington. Thanks very much.

Sadjadpour: My pleasure. Thank you.