What do pollsters who just finished surveying Iranian public opinion and the former Deputy Assistant of Defense for the Middle East have in common? They both agreed on what a diplomatic solution with Iran would look like at a recent Stimson Center panel.
Two thirds of Iranians want their government to establish a diplomatic relationship with the United States, according to Steven Kull of WorldPublicOpinion.org. Yet, polls from RAND, World Public Opinion and elsewhere have consistently shown over 90% of the Iranian public support a civilian nuclear program over the last 7 years.
Dr. Colin Kahl, a former senior Defense Department official and Georgetown professor, highlighted Iranians’ support for domestic enrichment as a “really important factor for U.S. policy makers to keep in mind.”
Kahl touted the Obama administration’s current approach as pushing Iran towards a deal, and argued that the U.S. must offer Iran a face-saving way out of its impasse to avoid war:
“The regime fears unrest. The regime fears a war. And to get out of that, they sign a face saving deal that gives them a lot of nuclear activities, a lot of nuclear cooperation, but caps their enrichment at 5% under extraordinarily intrusive inspections. That’s the only deal that is politically viable in Iran.”
The panelists agreed that such a proposal offered the best chance for a peaceful resolution to the U.S.-Iran conflict. But Ebrahim Mohseni, PhD candidate at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and lecturer at University of Tehran, argued that the focus on pressure risked having the opposite of the intended effect:
“When you are dealing with an outside enemy, usually what has happened in the course of human history and in the case of Iran, is the exact opposite, is the ‘rally around the flag’ syndrome… because people want to protect the government in the face of international pressure.”
But that was not the most risky aspect of the focus on pressure, according to Mohseni. He said the polling data led him to conclude “there is a strong positive correlation between fear of military action against Iran and support for an Iranian nuclear weapons program.”
In other words, the push by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some in Congress to get the President to threaten war against Iran even more explicitly will only make war more likely.