Impact of the Green Movement on Iran’s Foreign Policy
The Green Movement has affected Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear negotiations. On one hand, Iran’s leadership has not reached a compromise on the nuclear issue because its own domestic crisis has caused a decision-making deadlock. On the other hand, they want some type of opening with the West.
According to the October 1st agreement, a considerable amount of low-enriched uranium (LEU) will be delivered to Russia to be enriched up to 20% and further processed in France. The uranium would then be sent back to Tehran to be used as fuel for a research reactor for medical purposes.
Why is this agreement—touted by both President Obama and Tehran as a constructive step in negotiations—considered to be such an important achievement for both sides?
1. For 5+1 it was a considerable achievement that a great amount of uranium would be sent out of the country so the Iranians would no longer have a sufficient amount of uranium at their disposal to build a bomb. In fact, 5+1 believes it has been successfully slowed down, if not entirely stopped, the clock on Iran attaining the bomb.
2. Also this is a stage in trust-building in which all parties intend to secure collective trust by implementing the agreement in good faith.
3. The Iranian negotiators, on the other hand, think they have won by securing sufficient fuels for Tehran's reactor.
4. Also, with these negotiations, Iran has averted the risk of multilateral economic sanctions or at least has delayed that possibility.
5. Last but not least, global public opinion is distracted from Iran's violations of human rights and domestic crisis to the nuclear issue.
Since 2005, when Iran resumed its enrichment, the Western powers' goal was to get Iran to suspend its nuclear activities altogether, and the Iranian government absolutely insisted on continuing enrichment inside the country. In reaction to Iran's nuclear activities, the U.N. imposed three sets of economic sanctions against Iran in the interim period.
A fundamental difference between the October 1st negotiations and the history of all the previous encounters is that both parties backed away from their previous demands. On the one hand, there was no more talk of suspension, and on the other hand, Iran agreed to send uranium for higher enrichment outside of the country. Though, recently, due to the decision-making deadlock, there are disputes about this agreement. Some officials are in favor of gradually sending low enriched uranium (LEU) abroad to gain fuel for the Tehran reactor while others are against doing so.
Even this limited agreement has surprised the West, and now the puzzling question is why Iran came to such a compromise at this point, when in the past they had rejected similar offers. Is it a consequence of the Green Movement or is it due to the IRI's concerns about further economic sanctions?
My own view is that the persistence of the Green Movement and the domestic challenges that it has posed to the legitimacy of the government are the main reasons for Iran's compromise. The fact of the matter is that the government cannot fight two battles, domestic and international, both at the same time. Looking at the domestic crisis, it seems that the government has chosen a strategy of domestic suppression and international reconciliation. There's no doubt that the economic sanctions imposed since 2005 and the possibility of even greater sanctions have adversely impacted Iran’s economic condition, and the worsening economic situation has in turn exacerbated the crisis of legitimacy facing the government.
Although Iran’s leadership seeks a degree of reconciliation with the West; the internal crisis makes this difficult for the leadership. On one hand, they need an external enemy to suppress domestic dissent. Opposition to the U.S. has become a hallmark of the Islamic Republic’s ideology, such that backing away from this hard-line position could cause the conservatives to lose followers who are needed to suppress the protestors of the Green Movement. On the other hand, they need to reach some sort of reconciliation with West because Iran’s economy cannot withstand new economic sanctions, which may be imposed if the nuclear issue is not resolved.
My last point is that Iran’s October approach to nuclear negotiations is only a tactical measure in reaction to the internal crisis that the government is experiencing. If the Green Movement continues to flourish in the next few months, there's a good chance that the government will have to maintain a cooperative stance with regards to the nuclear issue. So the fate of the nuclear issue is in fact closely linked to the fate of the Green Movement in the months to come.