Mistaken Path

Without a breakthrough, are we heading towards war?


Mistaken Path
by Trita Parsi

There was neither a breakdown nor breakthrough in the Moscow talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1). The P5+1 and Iran negotiated, but could not make any headway. No one should be surprised by this result – after all, the two sides only had the ability to make demands. They – in particularly the U.S. - lacked the political will to put real concessions on the table. But without a breakthrough, are we heading towards war?

Under normal circumstances, an uneventful diplomatic encounter would hardly get noticed. As long as the talks are kept alive, the situation would remain stable. After all, diplomacy takes patience and persistence. The diplomatic dance often takes one step back, two steps forward. For instance, negotiations to normalize relations between the US and Vietnam took four long years – between 1990-1994. It took seven years of talks to convince Qaddafi’s Libya to dismantle its nuclear program. In both cases, there were numerous setbacks, even breakdowns, along the way before a final agreement was reached.

That is not the situation between the West and Iran for a very simple reason – the US and the EU are going to significantly escalate the pressure on Iran in the coming weeks. The EU’s oil embargo and U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil sales will formally come into effect at the end of the month. And as unprecedented as these measures are, the U.S. will move shortly thereafter to impose even more sanctions to strangle Iran’s oil exports.

The pattern of the past ten years clearly shows that when one sides escalates, the other side counter-escalates. Neither side has had a particularly elaborate or sophisticated strategy. It’s been nothing more than a kindergarten-level tit-for-tat game.

Consequently, Iran will likely counter-escalate. What makes this latest round of escalatory steps more dangerous is that Iran’s escalation options are fewer and fewer and more and more dangerous.

Iran’s likely (counter)escalation will center on three possible steps. First, they may increase the level of enrichment to 60% or possibly even 95%. Sixty percent-enriched uranium can be used for producing fuel pads for their American-made medical reactor. The 95%-enriched uranium can be used to power nuclear submarines. But it can also be used to build bombs. And Iran doesn’t have any nuclear fuel submarines (though it recently stated that it plans to build them). Both of these steps would be viewed by the US as a major escalation and possibly as crossing Obama’s red line for war.

Second, Tehran may complete the underground facility in Fordo – the only facility it has that likely cannot be destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Iran can speed up its installation of centrifuge cascades at Fordo. This would clearly cross Israel’s stated red line by making Iran’s nuclear program largely beyond the reach of Israeli bombing capabilities. While Iran has violated several Israeli red lines in the past without an Israeli military reaction, Israel has nevertheless responded without exception by increasing pressure on the US to take military action.

Finally, Iran may stir up tensions in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz in order to push up oil prices, and by that make the Western escalation as costly as possible. This would be particularly problematic for Obama since higher oil prices translates into higher gas prices, which in turn hurts the US economy. If you are an incumbent President looking to get reelected, you cannot afford a struggling economy and high unemployment rates.

Warnings about Iran’s ability to close the Strait of Hormuz will likely begin anew. Initially, lower ranking government officials, including junior lawmakers, will issue statements on this matter. Within weeks, more senior political, military and religious officials will echo these warnings. Simultaneously, other officials will deny Iran’s intent to close the Straits, in order to infuse even greater confusion and uncertainty into the situation.

Without actually attacking a single ship, the Iranian navy and the IRGC navy will adopt a more threatening posture, including by harassing ships passing through the straights. The aim will be to create perpetual, low-grade instability in the waters. This would, among other things, increase the insurance cost for the passing ships and push up oil prices.

It is difficult to see how the next round of talks can survive this game of escalation. And it is difficult to see how the two sides will have greater flexibility to make talks succeed after this next round of heightened pressure.

From the U.S. side, this combination of talks and pressure is premised on the idea that Iran does not yield under pressure -- it only yields under enormous pressure. U.S. decision-makers are inspired by the events of 1988, when Ayatollah Khomeini finally agreed to end the war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Iran had suffered tremendous military losses, largely because Saddam’s use chemical weapons. (Incidentally, the components for those chemical weapons were provided to Saddam by the West.) Iran’s economy was is shatters. Oil prices stood at less than $10 per barrel. Iran simply could not resist any longer.

Despite Khomeini’s slogan of “war, war till victory,” he had no choice but to throw in the towel. “Taking this decision was more deadly than taking poison,” he said.

Washington wants the regime in Tehran to once again drink from that cup of poison, and to do that, a constant escalation of pressure is needed, the Obama administration calculates.

But there is a world of difference between Khamenei’s Iran of 2012 and Khomeini’s Iran of 1988. Beyond the obvious it is impossible to bring Iran anywhere near the type of pressure and suffering it endured during the 8 year long Iraq-Iran war, Khomeini also had a clear choice in 1988 with clear consequences. He knew that if he drank the poison, the war would end. There was near 100% certainty of that.

Khamenei does not perceive such a choice today because there is no clarity of what would happen if he were to give in to Western demands. Rather than clarity, there is ambiguity.

Sanctions could be lifted. Down the road. Perhaps.

Iran could have domestic nuclear enrichment capabilities. In the distant future. Maybe.

Beyond a clear choice, Khomeini also had an absolute decision-maker as his counterpart. Saddam made all the decisions and no one dared to challenge him. He didn’t have to deal with a pesky Congress.

Khamenei does not perceive in Obama a forceful decision-maker whose decisions will stand and whose promises will be fulfilled. Khamenei already had a preconceived notion of Obama in early 2009 as weak and incapable of standing up to pressure from Republicans and Israel. After numerous cases in which Obama has altered his policies in response to these pressures, that impression of the US president has likely not changed.

In the absence of clear exit ramps – both for the US and Iran – the attempt to recreate the 1988 scenario is fundamentally flawed. Rather than creating stark choices, there is nothing more than naked escalation. And rather than causing Iran to capitulate, we are more likely to beget confrontation.

Meanwhile, even short of war, crippling sanctions and pressure will continue to decimate Iran’s middle class – the backbone of Iran’s indigenous pro-democracy movement. Truly a lose-lose for all.

First published in huffingtonpost.com.

Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and the author of “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.”


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more from Trita Parsi

Hokoomat Mostaz'afaan

by omeedvar on

Trita believes "crippling sanctions and pressure will continue to decimate Iran's middle class". What middle class? The only truth that Islamic regime has brought to Iranians from the beginning of revolution is when khomeini said he wants to get rid of Taghoot (shah), and bring "Hokoomat Mostaz'afaan" Islamic Regime. The Iranian middle class decimated many years ago after eight years of war, destruction of economy, industry, agriculture, and brain drain. except 5 to 10 percent who have benefitted from this regime, most Iranians are now Mostaz"af (poor) and pretend to have a normal life (ba seely soorat khod ra sorkh negah midarand). Almost one generation of Iranians have been lost during the last thirty four years. After ten years of negociation about Iran's nuclear capabilities, nothing has been achieved to improve daily life of the majority of people. The regime's aim is: delay, divided, and conqur. Those who defend and support this regime are benefitting from it. Iran will loose another generation if this regime continues. Bruce: You must be genetically related to Mahmood Bahmani, chief of Iran Central Bank. Enjoy your life while you can.


M: Warmongering is all part

by alimostofi on

M: Warmongering is all part and parcel of the sort of propaganda that the military PR machine uses to create undue fear as a form of psychological violence on the general public when they tune into the late night TV. Yawn!

FB: astrologer.alimostofi


M: Warmongering is all part

by alimostofi on

M: Warmongering is all part and parcel of the sort of propaganda that the military PR machine uses to create undue fear as a form of psychological violence on the general public when they tune into the late night TV. Yawn!

FB: astrologer.alimostofi


I have a massage for u!!

by مآمور on

معاون ستاد کل نیروهای مسلح ایران گفت: اگر آنها (مقامات اسرائیل) در یک
معادله منطقی بخواهند عمل کنند، این تهدیدات یک جنگ روانی است و اگر هم
بخواهند خلاف منطق عمل کنند، حتما آنها هستند که شکست می‌خورند."

احمدی دوئل سوار بر اسب را خواهد برد! چونکه اسب سواری دولا دولا و روی میز نمیشود!!

I wear an Omega watch


AK: Benign Enemy

by alimostofi on

A fake threat is what both IRGC, and their sparring partners US, need to keep their jobs. And this fake threat is constantly being whipped up by Jewish US media who want to sell media. This whole fiasco is big business. That is the real issue. It is all hearsay and time wasting, that needs to be done, before someone gets up and says Guns or Butter? But no one does until there is an economic depression. So everyone thinks about questions that are irrelevant. But these questions feed the pockets of weapon traders. And that is the bottom line. Weapon traders.

FB: astrologer.alimostofi

Arash Kamangir

The question to ask is...

by Arash Kamangir on

The question to ask is whether or not The West is going to tolerate IR in a rapidly changing Middle East. If IR does not change his policy of interfering in other countries such as syria or Iraq then the West may risk having the War in which the nuclear problem automatically is solved along with IR's existance.


Two businesses IRGC and US forces.

by alimostofi on

Two military businesses need a reason to keep getting funding from their people. Both IRGC and US forces need to keep their jobs. Keep it simple. Stop thinking politics or some other so called ideological principle. It's all about the arms business.

Once the IRGC openly declare they have the bomb they will not get any more funding. The country will be the "most advanced country in the world". But the irony is that the IRGC will then no longer have any need for funding.

A nuclear bomb puts an end to military funding. So you will always get the IRGC and US talk about how the percentages are creeping up. As long as it is creeping up then they know that they will still get military funding. Once you have nukes or a war then this game is over.

It's all a game to keep their jobs at the expense of other areas of government expenditure. For US it is 60% of their GDP. So the IRGC are good for US military industrial complex and they fund Republicans in the elections.

And Trita stop saying Iran when you mean IRGC.

FB: astrologer.alimostofi

Mohammad Ala

Personal attacks on real people.

by Mohammad Ala on

No respect or maturity is displayed in most comments posted.  Why some members keep using profanity and personal attacks?  IC should consider itself lucky that it has not been sued for bogus members’ personal attacks on real people.


Stating the obvious may not sit well….

by Bavafa on

With some of our friends on IC but if we look at the past history of IRI in relation to foreign policies, it ought to be clear these are not all made up stories. 

Sad fact is that for the West instead of investing in the Iranian people to gain their support, hearts and mind, they are alienating them ever more so with focusing on something that does not exist and missing the elephant in the room i.e. the violation of Iranian people’s rights.

It is time for US to think about its own interest and not the interest of an occupying regime. 


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 


iraj khan

Excellent Observation

by iraj khan on

and analysis of the dire situation involving U.S. and Iran by Trita Parsi.

Telling it as it is,

disregarding the distractions created by the Israel Lobby

and the 'Bomb Iran' crowd.

We need many like him (and NIAC) among Iranian Americans to stand up for our rights.

Thanks for posting it here.


why does this IRR

by shushtari on

mouthpiece have a 'boland goo' here on IR.com??

his one sided jibberish is revulsive.....over, and over and over again, parsi pathetically keeps blaming the 'west' for everything......while his bosses in iran are raping and killing our people- all the while building a nuke and trying to fool the world!

the only destiny waiting for parsi, and his papa- khayenei is one of 'retirement' in chernobyl, next to putin. 


 Campbell: Israeli PM

by vildemose on


Dear Faramarz: LOL I

by vildemose on

Dear Faramarz: LOL

I guess IRI and Niacollahis are cornered like a rabid coyote. However, Griffin is ready.


All Oppression Creates a State of War--Simone De Beauvoir

Mehrdad A

Don't be Bashful...

by Mehrdad A on

In the topsy-turvy world of the Iranian issues, when there is no breakthrough, there is always a breakdown. It is not a sheer cliff, rather it is a gradual decline of diminishing financial resources like oil revenue that is already hurting the economy as well as the people of Iran. The scarier vanishing element here is the patience of the West with Iran, however illogical, that can result in massive diminution of Iran's resources to manage the country.

What Parsi is hallucinating as Iran's mighty power in Persian Gulf is just a little toe wiggling by the Mullahs where there in no wiggle room.

Dr. Mohandes


by Dr. Mohandes on

Reading your comments is like listening to Namaz Jomeh sermons, But very entertaining nontheless.

Thanks for the Information:))))))))))))))))) 


گل بود و به سبزه نیز آراسته شد!




Trita has now taken his lobbying and consulting role public by providing the following advice to the IR Regime.

First, enrich to 60-95% for your “nuclear” submarines. Second, quickly finish the construction of Fordo site. And finally, harass the oil tankers in the Persian Gulf to jack up the price of oil to Trita’s prediction of $250.

Wonderful. If this is not warmongering, then what is it?


NIAC lobby

by Fred on

Once again the lifetime president of the NIAC lobby with court documented record of extensive close working relationship with various high officials of the Messianic Islamist Rapist Republic (IRR) puts the onus for the deadlock on the US.

Is it any wonder that IRR uses the lifetime president of the NIAC lobby’s speeches in its propaganda?


No, we are merely headed towards 2 elections

by bahmani on

The one this November and the one next June.

Add in that it only makes complete total sense for Iran to get a nuclear weapon to keep its impatient people in line, as well as solidify its theocracy forever, these "Talks" are nothing but PR and Posing designed to give feigned negotiations a good look.

Iran is stalling until enrichment gets into the 90s. As I have predicted, and will stick to that prediction, I expect an "October Surprise" announcement of a rudimentary device or test before the November election.

A "wising up" Obama administration quickly learning now that Iran has no strategy at all and is merely stalling, is less appealing than a new and naive Romney administration who would not dare to field yet another failed war in the region, buying Iran even more time, neutralizing the US in the region. Likely forever.

This is my own opinion based on my genetic ability to read the same tea leaves as Parsi. Without any sort of degree or formal university training by any current or former failed administration official, or current or former politician-turned professor.

My teachers are Pakestan, and most recently I have been auditing a new course called "North Korea 101". These largely useless countries not only have the attention and full authority to proceed with their folly, but better, now have the respect of the world.

The advertisement that US has presented Iran with, is "Get a nuke, Get Respect!"

Given that Iran might be dumb enough to actually worship an eternally absent god, she is not that stupid, and has gotten the all but obvious hint being given to them here.

That and the fact the the two biggest buyers of Iranian Oil, China and India are not being asked to sanction Iran. In the least. In fact they have signed 20+ year contracts with Iran for the gooey black stuff that now looks eerily like the very coagulated blood of the dinosaurs it seems to come from. China has possibly even pre-paid for it, in order to buy down everyone's future it intends to own

So, none of this, is about what it seems to be about.

But I could be wrong. Not having an actual degree in "Political Sewage" requires I state that.

But if I am right, and in October Iran announces a nuclear weapon, god help all those who wasted all that time getting "Educated". Because genetics, and tea leaves are all you need to opine intellectually.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //brucebahmani.blogspot.com/