Hillary Mann Leverett–fresh off her dynamite appearance alongside Trita at the J Street Conference’s Iran panel–has an article in today’s Foreign Policy magazine online in which she argues that the delay over Iran’s decision to ship its uranium stockpile out of the country stems from the inherent mistrust that has plagued US-Iran relations for decades.  This, more than any internal political divisions in the post-election atmosphere, accounts for the IRI’s waffling back and forth over the proposal.

If the Iranian leadership believes that the United States is interested in a fundamental realignment of U.S.-Iranian relations and is prepared to live with the Islamic Republic as it stands, a consensus in favor of the reactor fuel deal could be forged in Tehran. …But I am skeptical that the United States has provided the security guarantees that would be needed to assuage Iranian concerns about Washington’s ultimate intentions.

Iran’s official response to the proposed nuclear deal is expected today (the LA Times notes Ahmadinejad’s speech this morning which skirts the issue somewhat but may be intended to soften the ground for Iran’s official acceptance of the deal), but like always it will be incredibly difficult to get a straight “yes” or “no” answer out of Tehran.  Most likely the response will involve some sort of a request for an amendment to the deal.
But this decision won’t be made in a vacuum–and here is where Hillary’s point is incredibly important.  The atmosphere between Iran and the West is rife with mistrust.  Recent diplomatic progress has helped rebuild some of that confidence, but both sides are still incredibly wary of the other.  This is why we’ve been so nervous about recent Congressional actions to approve tough sanctions this week.
In the already toxic atmosphere, the last thing the US needs to do is insert yet more doubt in our willingness to negotiate in good faith.  Sanctioning Iran while the talks are teetering on the edge of progress will send the signal to Iran that it doesn’t matter what concessions they make at the negotiating table–Congress will punish them anyway. Thus, they have no incentive to make concessions in the first place, since they’ll end up getting hurt either way.
That’s a recipe for talks to break down.
We can only hope that Tehran is tuning out the background noise coming from the US Congress long enough to accept the proposal.  Rebuilding trust after thirty years is going to take some leaps of faith–and they’ll most likely get harder before things get easier.
{PS I’d also like to note that Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett–both renowned Iran experts–have started a fantastic new blog called The Race for Iran.  They have tons of great material up already, so click the link, bookmark it, and take a look!}

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