Wikileaks Revelations and the Dual Track Strategy of Dealing with Iran

By Alfred Nurja

As the U.S. and others prepare to restart negotiations with Iran this Monday, the Wikileaks revelations on the alleged bellicosity of Arab views toward Iran provide some interesting insights about the viability of the current international strategy for resolving the Iranian nuclear puzzle. (Marc Lynch provided some useful context this week - see here and here - on what to make of these revelations.)

The international community has been pursuing a dual track strategy of sanctions and engagement with Iran ever since the IAEA first reported Iran's nuclear file to the UN Security Council back in 2005. UN Security Council sanctions and unilateral U.S. and EU measures that restrict Iran's access to international trade and financial markets have spiked especially during the last year. (ACA recently held the first in a series of four panels on dealing with the Iranian nuclear program.)

Sanctions are a tool of statecraft designed to change the behavior of a targeted state and deter other potential proliferators. They are intended to pressure a given state to take a decision that it would normally not want to take. Unlike conventional sanctions that target a country's population at large and which were applied widely during the early 90's, the so-called smart sanctions chiefly employed against Iran today are designed to target the country's decision-making elites while limiting the negative impact on the vulnerable population. Conventional and smart sanctions, however, both require strong and sustained support from regional actors to achieve the intended objective.

And while the WikiLeaks revelations do not tell us how much the sanctions have affected Iranian internal deliberations, they indicate that the proper conditions are in place to enable a rigorous enforcement of these measures. The countries in the region appear deeply concerned and very much vested in sustaining the application of sanctions against Iran. Media reports have already highlighted the monetary cost that the measures are exerting on Iran. It is for this reason that these revelations not only help alleviate concerns that regional players might offset the impact of sanctions but they also make attempting any such action in the future much more costly to contemplate.

WikiLeaks also provides insights into the viability of the negotiations track. The cables reveal at least two things: first, there is broad agreement between China, Russia and the West when it comes to the assessment of regional and global repercussions resulting from a potentially nuclear armed Iran. Second, as Defense Secretary Gates allegedly notes in one of his comments, while there is much we do not know about Iran, "we do know that they do not like to be isolated." The prospects for a sustained agreement on the part of the P5+1 countries on dealing with Iran and the recognition of its growing isolation may give Iran pause for thought as the parties prepare to start a new round of negotiations this Monday.

As both Olli Heinonen, the former Deputy Director General of the IAEA, and Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer, noted during ACA's latest briefing on the State of Iran's Nuclear Program, the threat emanating from Iran is not imminent and there is time for negotiations. The Wikileaks revelations to date only help make this case stronger.