Not a Promising Start
In a Sunday interview on NBC's Meet the Press, President-elect Obama reiterated his Iran policy:
Well, I've said before, I think we need to ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy with Iran... and present a set of carrots and sticks in, in changing their calculus about how they want to operate. You know, in terms of carrots, I think that we can provide economic incentives that would be helpful to a country that, despite being a net oil producer, is under enormous strain, huge inflation, a lot of unemployment problems there. They could benefit from a more open economy and, and being part of the international economic system. But we also have to focus on the sticks, and one of the main things that diplomacy can accomplish is to help knit together the kind of coalition with China and India and Russia and other countries that now do business with Iran to agree that, in order for us to change Iran's behavior, we may have to tighten up those sanctions. But we are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and, and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or, or the easy way.
Those remarks should not come as a surprise - Mr. Obama has been consistent in his Iran policy over the course of the election season. The question is, will it work?Iran's initial response does not seem promising. On Monday morning, foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi condemned the policy as a mere reiteration of the failed Bush administration approach: "What Mr. Obama said is the same old carrot-and-stick approach... He must be able to change this policy based on his slogan of ‘change.’" Today, while speaking at an 'Eid Qurban' (Feast of Sacrifice) prayer services, former-President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani took the condemnation further:
With regards to Iran's support of terrorism, Ayatollah Rafsanjani offered this defense:
Iranian nation and government neither want the US incentives nor sanctions because they (the tactics) will prevent the country treading the path to peaceful use of nuclear energy and science...
For 30 years you have been calling for talks with us and we refused. Now, you lay tough conditions to make us talk with you? Have you forgotten the time when the US hostages were in Iran and your envoys came (here) for talks to secure their (the hostages') release and the late Imam (Khomeini) in Qum ordered (the envoys) to return? Have you forgotten (former US National Security Advisor) Mr. (Robert C.) McFarlane coming to Iran with an Irish passport and our officials declined to talk with him and the second and third grade directors talked with him instead? We are the ones who should call for talks with you.
We do not expect a person, considering himself representative of the African continent and of the oppressed US blacks, to parrot others such as (the outgoing US President George W.) Bush. We do not wish to quarrel with the US or go into war and fighting with it. We want to defend our right to benefit from global sciences and technology and stand on our own feet. ...
You are advised to take a right course, acknowledge to Iran's right and not to deny Iranians' rights. Let Iran, as an exemplary independent Muslim state, stand on its feet and serve as model of independence and freedom for other countries. ...Such issues as human rights, terrorism and nuclear are mere pretexts.
The terrorists they claim are Hizbollah and Hamas. Hizbollah is a resistance force in Lebanon which has rid people of the country of Israel's occupation and Hamas too is representative of the world's most oppressed people (Palestinians), who defend themselves.
Are these terrorists? ...Terrorists are either those coming from overseas to the region and have put people there in misery or their agents in Israel which has come into existence and formed through terror.
Rafsanjani's comments clearly indicate that Iran feels it currently has the upper hand in the nuclear debate. Carrots will not work unless Iran has something to fear. Since the international community has failed to show it has the sticks to punish Iran, the Islamic Republic is unlikely to relent until such leverage is established. How to do that is up for debate.