Yousaf Butt counters the common claim that “sanctions brought Iran to the table”:
It is important to underline that Iran has offered nothing more in terms of concessions now than what it offered in 2005. The sanctions did not bring Iran to the negotiating table—Tehran was always there—and the sanctions definitely did not wring out extra concessions from Iran. Basically, were it not for western intransigence and the bad atmospherics, the interim deal signed in late 2013 could have been signed in 2005 [bold mine-DL].
This is important to understand not only for the current debate over whether to impose additional sanctions on Iran in the months and years to come, but also for future debates on the use of sanctions as a coercive tool in dealings with other recalcitrant regimes. If we accept that sanctions “worked” to force Iranian concessions, it will be taken for granted that they can be used again against other regimes with similar effect, and the resulting policies will be just as pointless and needlessly cruel as our Iran policy has been for so many years. Many sanctions advocates very much want to claim the initial progress in diplomacy with Iran as a victory for their favorite blunt instrument, and it’s not surprising that they would. Given the overall record of failure that imposing sanctions has, the need to find a case where sanctions “worked” in forcing another regime to give in to U.S. and European demands is great. As Hossein Mousavian observed shortly after the interim deal was reached last year, it isn’t true in the Iranian case. In fact, failing to take the deal eight years ago meant that Iran advanced its nuclear program far more than it would have done otherwise:
The talks failed in 2005 as a result of US insistence on preventing Iran from exercising its legitimate rights to enrichment [bld mine-DL]. The west missed chance to resolve the disagreement and instead imposed sanctions. Contrary to the claims of some US lawmakers and Israeli officials, sanctions only caused a dramatic rise in nuclear capability, as Tehran sought to show it would not respond to pressure. Before, Iran was enriching uranium to below 5 per cent at one site with 3,000 centrifuges and possessed a minute stockpile of enriched uranium. Today, it is enriching to 20 per cent at two sites with 19,000 centrifuges. It has a stockpile of 8,000kg of enriched uranium and more sophisticated centrifuges.
Some hawks are always talking erroneously about “missed opportunities” in Iran (i.e., opportunities to overthrow the government), but the real missed opportunity of the last decade was when the U.S. failed to pursue a diplomatic agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue years ago.