One year ago, as Iranians headed to the polls for their Presidential election, few could have anticipated the dramatic events that would unfold in the days and weeks to follow. Allegations of massive electoral fraud and interference by the regime erupted into street demonstrations of a proportion not seen since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Western observers, stunned by the appearance of popular Iranian discontent with the regime, placed huge hopes in the newly emerged opposition Green Movement, anticipating the imminent collapse of the regime.
Today the United Nations Security Council voted 12-2 in approval of a resolution sanctioning Iran. By enhancing restrictions on the nuclear program, but also on the regime's financial interests and military program, the sanctions approved by the Security Council are designed to place new pressure on Iran to address the international community's concerns with its nuclear activities. This internationally-backed sanctions package blocks new categories of conventional arms sales to Iran; targets the Revolutionary Guard; and tightens the net around nuclear transfers. It is an extraordinary accomplishment for US diplomacy over the past year - and a reversal of years of major-power reluctance to support US calls for action. By working to put Iran outside of a rough international consensus, the administration has placed the regime under tangible pressure and scrutiny, and it now has little ability to mask its intransigence.
News that the U.S. has reached agreement with the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council on a draft resolution intended to sanction Iran for its troubling nuclear activities confirms the regime's growing international isolation. The news came a day after Iran made an agreement with Brazil and Turkey intended to head off sanctions, yet instead only served to demonstrate its isolation. The clock is now ticking for Iran to submit its implementation plan from the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a plan that can either raise or diminish international confidence in Iran's intentions.
Today, Iran and the international community are finally sitting down for much anticipated talks. The meeting in Geneva between Iran and the U.S, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, also known as the “P5 + 1,” comes at a momentous time. Since President Obama’s inauguration nine months ago, the administration has made strong efforts to draw Iran into negotiations. This has occurred against a tumultuous backdrop that has included unprecedented turmoil inside Iran following its controversial June elections, as well as recent revelations of a secret facility at Qom. While conservatives have been using the same old talking points, beating the war drums, calling for regime change, and treating the talks as if anything less than the complete disappearance of Iran’s nuclear program will be a failure, the Obama administration has harbored no such illusions. Negotiations will not be easy. Iran’s internal instability, coupled with its duplicity over the nuclear issue means that the meeting in Geneva will likely be a starting point for hard-nosed diplomacy.