US foreign policy helps no one, least of all the Iranian people

by Sohail Jannesari

US foreign policy towards Iran achieves little for the US. Worse still, it also harms the Iranian people. 

The mystifying nature of US foreign policy was recently exemplified when Iran was denied a seat on the new UN “super-agency” for women’s rights, UNIFEM. It seemed as if Iran’s candidacy to the agency’s board was to go uncontested. Then, the US-orchestrated pressure took hold. The American ambassador to the UN, as well as many American state ambassadors, put in a solid shift to take votes from Iran. It culminated with the success of East Timor’s conspicuous last minute candidacy.

But the agency isn’t being created for countries to show off their wonderful human rights record. It is there to practically improve women’s rights and the action against Iran was a loss for women’s rights. Iranian participation would have provided a depoliticised forum in which to discuss women’s rights in Iran.

It may also have helped solve a pertinent problem. The new agency will operate from the areas in which UNIFEM is currently based, but there is no outline for how to expand into other countries. UNIFEM has no offices or programmes running in Iran. Iran’s presence on the board may have been followed by a presence on the ground.

These benefits would have occurred without Iran having any real influence on setting “global policy” as it would only have been 1 of 41 board members.

Even if these arguments do not convince you, it must be conceded that American action only seems to have made Iran more determined to have a say in international women’s rights. Iran’s deputy ambassador to the UN made a point of stating that Iran would still be actively involved in the UN’s work on women’s rights. A board membership would have assigned some regulation, responsibility and maybe even reciprocity to this involvement. Now we are in a position where women’s rights in Iran are unlikely to benefit but UN proceedings will have to endure erratic Iranian input. Such an outcome should have been obvious given Iran’s penchant for Western defiance. So what did the US really hope to achieve? 

All the Americans wanted to and succeeded in doing, was scoring a cheap diplomatic victory. This assertion is supported by their relative silence on Saudi Arabia’s ascension. Of course, speaking out against the Saudis would have lost precious weapons contracts.

The US strategy is partly concerned with humiliation. It is part of the reason why nuclear talks have failed thus far. Assuming Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, trust is essential for an agreement. This was demonstrated by the Turkish and Brazilian brokered agreement, which although exhumed under pressure, appeared to be a positive and concrete step forward in negotiations.

Iran will now be more likely to see transfer of uranium to Western hands as another method of humiliation rather than an understandable precautionary measure. Surely such action is against US interests, especially in light of the upcoming resumption of nuclear talks.

And, if the assumption of peaceful nuclear ambitions does not hold then why give Iran an excuse not to cooperate?

The rest of US strategy entails isolating Iran in the hope that it will be forced to accept US positions in negotiations. However, it is highly dubious that the Iranians will be affected by exclusion into what should be a politically neutral body. If anything, the conduct of the US has once again demonstrated a disturbing imbalance of power at the UN.

In rejecting Iran’s candidacy the US have made miniscule if not non-existent gains. These “gains” are contrasted by costs mainly to the Iranian people also to the legitimacy of the UN. Such actions can be explained as the backfiring and imprudence of a childish foreign policy of isolation and humiliation. Inevitably, the Iranian people will continue to lose out.

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