As President Trump moves to scrap the nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, America and the West are once again finding themselves negotiating with Iran over nuclear weapons. Why has a lasting settlement between the West and Iran not been possible? The answer is a lack of empathy with Iran; instead of attempting to understand the Iranian regime and its concerns, Western discourse is dominated by Orientalist caricatures of Mad Mullahs bent on world conquest.
In order to bring about a lasting settlement with Iran, Western leaders will need to understand why the regime wants to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place. By placing ourselves in the shoes of the Iranian leadership and empathising with their situation, we can understand their concerns and their objectives and negotiate with them on a more effective basis.
Iran is completely encircled by nuclear armed or nuclear capable states, many of whom are extremely hostile towards it. To the north sits Russia, to the east Sunni Pakistan, to the west Israel and to the south the US Fifth Fleet and Saudi Arabia which collaborates with both Pakistan and the United States on nuclear technology.
The Iranians have seen Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi toppled by Western intervention, in spite of both regimes abandoning nuclear weapons programmes. Like North Korea, Iran is acutely aware that doing what the international community tells you is no guarantee of security.
So given that Iran has seen those who do what the West tells them invaded and destroyed and that the country is completely surrounded by nuclear states is it any wonder that they want nuclear weapons as well? What would President Trump, Prime Minister May or indeed any world leader do in the Iranian’s situation? Start a nuclear programme of course.
Iran is not an evil state, bent on destroying the West but one that is simply acting rationally in the situation it is in. Nuclear weapons, as the ultimate deterrent, would guarantee its security and survival in the face of Saudi, Israeli and Western hostility.
By acknowledging that Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons is a legitimate one, driven primarily by security concerns, negotiations can be conducted on a more amicable basis and are more likely to succeed. Imposing ever more sanctions and draconian measures, as the Trump regime appears to want, will backfire and only reaffirm the Iranian’s belief that they are surrounded by hostile powers.