Journal Article - World Policy Journal

The Paradox of Iran's Nuclear Consensus

| Fall 2009

TEHRAN—Though from American shores it may seem as if Iran's recent election tumult speaks of deep divisions in society and politics, there is one policy issue on which public opinion remains nearly unanimous: the nuclear program. Among the Iranian political elite, there is a clear internal consensus—in the run-up to the recent elections, even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reformist challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, professed his support for the nascent program. As such, unless this consensus dramatically falls apart, the politics of Iran's nuclear program will likely continue down the current path, making progress in negotiations with the United States a challenge, but a distinct possibility. In the aftermath of Iran’s post-election drama, some Western observers have argued that the apparent weakening of the Iranian elite's policy consensus, and also by implication the legitimacy of the incumbent government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will enable the West to acquire leverage vis-à-vis the nuclear issue. In fact, the reality is quite different. Divisions within the Islamic Republic, if they truly exist, will not provide the space for reconsidering the nuclear question. Only when there is an internal consensus among Iran's elite and the possibility of negotiating from a position of strength will Tehran come to a genuine and definitive agreement with the United States over the nuclear issue.

Iran seeks an "independent nuclear fuel cycle," the domestic capacity to produce enriched uranium and plutonium to fuel nuclear reactors for electricity generation. The legitimacy of this civilian goal is almost universally acknowledged, but Western governments have voiced concerns over Iran's reluctance to allow inspectors to view facilities and over fears that, once a nuclear capability is achieved, producing weapons-grade material is but a few steps away. The Iranian government, for its part, has said it does not intend to pursue this secondary course. Yet, from the perspective of Iran's elite, any negotiations between Tehran and Washington which might cause Iran to deviate from the long-term project of an independent nuclear fuel cycle would be an untenable strategic mistake.

There is little doubt that post-election events have splintered the consensus over issues of foreign policy among the Iranian elite, but such divisions will not severely impact the previous consensus around the nuclear issue as a matter of national and geostrategic pride....

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For Academic Citation: Barzegar, Kayhan. The Paradox of Iran's Nuclear Consensus.” World Policy Journal, vol. 26. no. 3. (Fall 2009):

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