Monday, November 02, 2009

State of the Nuclear Negotiations with Persia: a new look

"Rarely, in the 30 years of name-calling and visceral animosity between the US and Iran triggered by the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has the prospect of detente between them been so tantalisingly within reach. But Tehran is recklessly close to frittering away this opening. That would be a disaster.

The tentative deal struck at landmark talks in Geneva at the beginning of this month bought vital time to stave off what was looking like an inexorable confrontation between Iran and the west over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Under the outline accord, Iran would ship abroad the bulk of its known stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for reprocessing into higher grade medical isotopes for cancer treatment. Russia agreed to enrich the uranium to greater purity, then send it to France to be packaged up for use by an Iranian research reactor in Tehran. Iran is meanwhile allowing international inspection of a previously undeclared nuclear site near Qom. There is an elegance to this deal....

But what is now happening? The Iranian regime, as ever, is playing hard to get. While Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the mercurial president ruthlessly re-imposed by fraud in this summer’s bitterly contested elections, has welcomed a US shift to “co-operation”, Tehran wants a sort of instalment plan to phase its exports of LEU.

There is some wiggle room – not least because Iran has not set out a formal, written position. When it does, it should be clear what is at stake. Take the path to detente; the other road leads to perdition".

"Iran's [Persia's] Last Chance," The Financial Times, 31 October 2009 in

"Too often, Iran’s security concerns are dismissed in the United States and Israel as false or manufactured, re-enforcing the stereotype of Iranians as chronically duplicitous and unprepared to keep any commitment they enter into. These stereotypes are unfortunate for two reasons. First, they are wrong and simply not supported by the historical record. This is certainly not how Iran approached previous episodes of engagement with the United States – including two years of extremely constructive official talks between the United States and Iran over Afghanistan and al Qaida following the 9/11 attacks (talks in which I directly participated).

Second, these stereotypes are fundamentally racist. If someone were to criticize Israeli diplomacy by referring to rabbis lying and conspiring behind their beards -- as far too many commentators accuse Iran’s “mullahs” as lying and conspiring behind their beards -- we would rightly denounce that as an anti-Semitic stereotype.

We should not approach negotiations with Iran on the basis of stereotypes. We should approach these negotiations with a serious understanding of our own interests and an informed appreciation for the interests of the other side....

This is clearly the approach preferred by some in Washington, some of Israel’s supporters here, and the current Israeli government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear, publicly, that full suspension of Iran’s fuel-cycle development is the only acceptable outcome to nuclear dialogue with the Islamic Republic. But it is dangerous and delusionary. If, in the near term, the United States insists on strict quantitative limits on further development of Iran’s fuel cycle infrastructure, and, in the longer term, on zero enrichment in Iran, the negotiating process started in Geneva on October 1 will implode.

That implosion will put the United States on the path to policy failure as it seeks to impose what Sec Clinton likes to call “crippling” sanctions on Iran. And when the U.S. is unable to get Chinese or Russia, or even French, support for anything approaching “crippling” sanctions, that policy failure will increase the chances for military confrontation over Iran’s nuclear activities with all of the predictably profound consequences such a confrontation would have for the Middle East, especially for Israel.

The other, far more preferable, approach would entail the United States pursuing a genuinely workable diplomatic strategy towards Iran. With regard to the nuclear issue, this would mean stepping back from a quixotic quest for zero enrichment in Iran and, instead, seeking to identify monitoring arrangements for Iran’s nuclear program so that the proliferation risks associated with Iran’s program were tightly controlled.

Pursuing this strategy would also require embedding diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue in a broader, comprehensive, strategic framework for U.S.-Iranian discussions. Such discussions would deal with the full range of bilateral differences between Washington and Tehran, with the aim of reaching what I have often described as a U.S.-Iranian Grand Bargain. This is something which Iran very much wants. It is also something that would be very strongly in the interests of the United States and Israel....

At this point, the United States cannot achieve any of its high-priority objectives in the greater Middle East -- in the Arab-Israeli arena, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, with regard to energy security, etc. -- without a more productive relationship with the Islamic Republic....

Second, without U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, the United States will not be able to achieve any of its high-priority goals in the Middle East. This would be bad for Israel, which needs credible and effective American leadership in the region to maintain a stable balance of power, address serious threats, and ensure its safety and survival. We should think hard about what Israel’s strategic situation would be like if the United States is seen, to a much greater extent than is already the case, as a declining power, unable to deliver".

Hillary Mann Leverett, "Pragmatists in Teheran," Foreign Policy,
30 October 2009, in

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.' 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make make words mean so many different things.' 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all'.
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass. Chapter Six, 1872.

Which or rather who 'is to be master - that's all,' sums up the current status of the Six Great Power negotiations with the regime in Tehran over its nuclear programme. In its response on Thursday last, to the proposal put to it by the Six Powers in late September, the regime of Mullahs, countered with what Reuters correctly characterized as 'killer amendments'. Specifically, the Persians called for the following:

"will not ship out LEU [low enriched uranium] except in small, staggered portions, not all in one go by the end of the year as the draft text stipulates. Another demand is to import fuel for the reactor from foreign suppliers at the same time that Iran is sending its own material out".

"Snap Analysis: Iran [Persia] stalls atom plan but no new sanctions soon,"29 October 2009, in

The upshot of the acceptance of any such amendment to the original offer by the Six, would be that Persia would be able to replenish the uranium stocks while, at the same time it is shipping, bit by bit, the LEU to Russia. Id est., there is every danger that at a time of its own choosing, Persia would be able to denounce the agreement, and, present the Six with a fait accompli, as it would have continued with its nuclear programme, sub rosa, using the new supplies that it had imported (with the approval of the Six!). It is difficult to tell whether Persia seriously expects for the Six to respond or take seriously this proposal, or it merely wishes to play for more time and string out negotiations in the hope that: a) its programme will advance even further along; b) the Six will become exhausted and lose the taste for any additional or 'tough' sanctions. All of which make the arguments pro-offered by Hillary Leverett, difficult to take seriously, except in a sort of Looking-Glass sort of fashion. So for example her argument that we should not characterize the regime in Tehran as being controlled by 'Mullahs', since this is a 'racist' sort of argument, and, uses the counter-example of how horrid it would be to use Rabbis in the case of Israel. This argument is completely devoid of logic of course: I and other commentators refer to 'the regime of Mullahs', in the case of Persia by virtue of the fact that the head of state and principal player in the entire regime, as well as many other policy-makers, are in fact 'Mullahs,' aka, Muslim clergymen, of one rank or other. As far as I am aware of, there has never been an Israeli President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Defence Minister, who was a Rabbi. If there were, and, if the Jewish clergy exercised a prominent position in the governing of the State of Israel, then indeed, it would be quite in order for anyone to refer to that status in characterizing the nature of the Israeli polity.

Similarly, her argument that now is the time for a 'grand-bargain,' between the USA and Persia, and, that the USA will be unable to achieve its goals in the Near East, overlooks the fact that: a) the regime in Persia is not especially either strong or popular at the moment. As the recent bombing of the Revolutionary Guard barracks in Baluchistan last week, clearly shows. It faces many challenges on its home ground b)there is very little evidence that the regime is interested in such a 'grand bargain,' since there is little evidence of the regime's bon fides in the matter. Leveritt's mis-reading of the situation on the ground in Persia, is of a piece with her mis-reading the larger diplomatic tea leaves. Specifically, her comments that were the USA to endeavor to keep Persia to the original terms of its offer of late September, and, were Tehran to refuse, there would be little support for further, more serious sanctions, by the other Six powers. In fact, as the editorial in the Financial Times clearly shows the is a widespread recognition by the other powers involved in the negotiations that more substantive sanctions are needed if Tehran refuses to accept the Six's offer. Indeed, as per the Financial Times, the other member of the Six are critical of what they regard as the American Administrations excessive faith in Teheran's good will at this stage of the negotiations(see: "Tehran seeks big changes to nuclear deal," 30 October 2009, in In short, the time for talking and coddling the regime of Mullahs in Tehran is rapidly drawing to a close. If Tehran fails to offer up a serious modus vivendi to resolve the matter of its nuclear programme, then the Six will have to take steps to apply ultra-serious sanctions. Including stopping the shipment of refined oil to Persia. And, since the incompetent regime in Tehran relies upon outside suppliers for a considerable portion of its refined oil supplies, sanctions on this product will very rapidly bring the entire country to a standstill. As per the likely Persian response to this? I for one, rather doubt that the elites who control policy, both clerical and non-clerical alike, are ready to throw overboard, all of their ill-gotten gains, for the nuclear programme. And, Tehran surely knows that any attack on either American forces in the Persia Gulf, or the neighboring Gulf countries will result in an annihilating counter-stroke. And, last time I checked, Wagner notions of Gotterdemmerung, are not part of the thought processes of our amici in Tehran...


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