This fun new modern diplomacy… Iran July 31, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.
From NPRs To The Point a recent discussion with Glenn Kessler author of The Confidante: Condoleeza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy (about – you guessed it – Condoleeza Rice!) and Washington Post diplomatic correspondent, about talks between Iran and the US.
Is it a real change in policy?
Yes, it’s the beginnings of a real diplomatic process between the US and Iran. The US has said up until now that it wouldn’t join these negotiations until Iran suspended it’s uranium enrichment programme. Iran has said it wouldn’t start negotiations under that precondition. What you see is a netherworld of diplomacy where Burns is at the meeting to get the response from the Iranians to the offer the major powers have made, and the Iranians, on the table is a discussion of something called a freeze for a freeze which is a period of time where the Iranians aren’t expanding their programme and the other side is not expanding sanctions. And both sides can claim a victory… the Iranians can say hey the Americans started talking before we suspended, and the Americans can say well we didn’t start negotiating until they suspended.
What’s the offer?
It’s a very rich package if Iran agrees to suspend their enrichment programme, it includes investment deals to greater political clout in the Middle East, agricultural deals, telecoms deals, a lot of money on the table they’re offering.
There’s a lot of talk publicly about the possibility that the Bush administration before it leaves office might want to attack Iran militarily. Does this bring an end to this idea?
Yes very much so. I frankly thought there was not much to any of that since the National Intelligence Estimate came out earlier this year which suggested that Iran had stopped working on building a nuclear weapon. Now it was a very controversial estimate but that took the wind out of the sails of any possibility that the US would attack Iran, because they wouldn’t be able to justify it to the rest of the world. How can you attack a country which you think isn’t working on a nuclear weapon.
What about Israel? There are Israeli’s that are saying that it’s inevitable that Israel will have to attack Iran if the US won’t do so in order to stop the nuclear threat. Has the Bush administration sent out any messages?
Yes, very strong messages to Israel. Not all of it is quite clear, but there was a recent trip by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mullen to Israel and there was reporting after that that he had sent a very strong message to Israelis that you’re not going to get a green light for this, you’re not going to be able use Iraqi airspace [to transit to Iran] for anything like this so cool down and let us try a diplomatic approach.
What should we look for after the meeting?
Well you’re not going to see any dramatic announcements… but if they issue some kind of statement that progress has been made, that they’ll continue discussions and both sides see the possibility of freeze for freeze taking hold that would be a very positive step. A positive statement afterwards would indicate that both Iran and the US are trying to feel their way off the cliff they’ve stuck themselves on.
You say it’s Condoleeza Rice who pushed for this, was there a push back by others in the administration?
….the Vice-Presidents office wasn’t particularly happy with this notion, but there aren’t many other options, the military one is one they’re not thinking of…
And the results of said meeting?
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described Saturday’s international talks on his country’s nuclear programme as a “step forward” yesterday, although western officials said the negotiations ended in deadlock.
Ahmadinejad told Iranian state radio that his government’s official response would be announced soon.
His remarks offered a glimmer of hope after talks in Geneva ended with no sign of a resolution of the nuclear standoff between Iran and the UN security council, despite the direct participation for the first time of a senior US official.
But last week comes news that…
“The Iranian nation will not retreat one iota in the face of oppressing powers,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Iran says its nuclear programme is a peaceful drive to generate electricity so that the Islamic Republic, the world’s fourth-largest crude producer, can export more of its oil and gas.
“The Iranian nation has chosen its path,” Ahmadinejad said.
Addressing the major powers which have offered economic and other incentives in return for Tehran halting its most sensitive atomic work, he said: “If you come forward based on law, justice and logic, the Iranian nation will negotiate on important global issues and will cooperate in solving the problems of humanity.”
And then today in the Guardian:
Iran will continue its nuclear “path”, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted yesterday, just days before a deadline set by world powers for Tehran to accept a deal that could defuse the dispute over its nuclear programme.
Khamenei, who has the final word on all big issues in Iran, suggested there was no mood for compromise in Tehran, despite the threat of new sanctions or an attack by the US or Israel. EU officials announced new restrictions that would be implemented if Iran did not back down.
And the rhetoric is hardly optimistic…
“They [the west] know that the Iranian nation is after using nuclear energy to provide electricity but they say because this work gives you capability, we will not allow it,” he was quoted as saying. “The Iranian nation does not pay attention to such talk and will continue with its path.”
“Taking one step back against arrogant [powers] will lead to them to take one step forward,” he argued. “The idea that any retreat or backing down from righteous positions would change the policies of arrogant world powers is completely wrong and baseless.”
As ever the interpretations are difficult to parse:
Analysts say Iran appears to have been emboldened by divisions within the international community, signs that the US is not willing to use military action and has urged Israel to refrain from doing so.
Perhaps, or perhaps this is merely verbal sparring. Or perhaps it’s not.
So, in the light of the analysis above on NPR, is the latest statements are a case of first the bad news, then the good (at least in terms of leaving a chink of light for future progress)? You pays your money, you takes your choice.
During the Peace Process there was a certain choreography to events, perhaps as much a function of media interpretation and analysis as reality. But it certainly seemed on occasion that events played out according to pre-existing plans – and as we now know levels of cooperation between seeming adversaries was higher than might have been expected. It’s interesting to reflect on whether that is what we see now played out on this issue, much as we saw that other element of the ‘axis of evil’ (surely no more stupid term has been coined) Norther Korea brought in from the cold…
Equally it could be due to internal pressures in Iran… it’s near impossible to be sure. Still worth watching to see if events unfold in the medium term as Kessler suggests.