The US will expect India and other countries to maintain sanctions against Iran, said Nicholas Burns, former US State Department number three and Harvard professor of diplomacy, during the HT Leadership Summit. This economic pressure is necessary to ensure this diplomatic opening is successful.
“The international community has to stick together and send a single message to Iran on its nuclear programme,” he said. “The worst thing would be for us to all try and get around the sanctions.”
US President Barack Obama is making a “smart and sensible decision” in talking to Iran, said Burns. However, he warned, it is going to get harder as negotiations continue and it is important to maintain economic pressure on Iran.
The Geneva agreement on resuming talks has frozen uranium enrichment by Iran for six months and given the players to negotiate a final deal, said Burns. “It’s been 34 years since the US and Iran have had an open and sustained conversation,” he said.
But opening lines of communication was the easy part. “The objective of the US and the European Union is to dismantle much of Iran’s nuclear programme,” he said. “Obviously Iran has a very different view.”
The domestic politics on both sides is also going to get more difficult. “There is already strong rightwing opposition in Iran to the talks,” he said. In Washington, the Republicans and some Democrats have objected strongly to negotiations with Iran. Many US allies, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, are also unhappy.
The sanctions help keep Tehran committed to the talks. The present sanctions relief is relatively minor: freeing some frozen funds, allowing the insurance of ships and so on.
Burns said no one should doubt the US’s continuing commitment to the Persian Gulf, despite the fact the US is on the verge of energy independence. “Many of our allies and friends are dependent on Mideast oil and gas – including India,” he said. The US also has a security commitment to Israel that remains and the Arab revolution will have effects on the US that cannot be ignored.
It is probably true the US would like to commit itself more to Asia and get out of the West Asian quagmire, he said. “But the US is not retreating from the Gulf anytime soon.”