10 November 2009

Iran: the nuclear stalemate

Some observations on this New York Times article on the current nuclear standoff between Iran and the Obama Administration.

The article reports that Iran has ignored back-channel offers to permit it to send its enriched uranium to any one of several countries including Turkey for temporary storage, and has revived an old proposal that international arms inspectors take custody of the fuel but keep it on Kish, a Persian Gulf resort island that is part of Iran. It goes on to say:

So far, President Obama has said nothing about the stalemate threatening his first, and potentially most important, effort at diplomatic engagement with a hostile foreign government. ... Mr Obama’s aides say he is still willing to wait until year’s end before concluding that Iran is rejecting his offers of diplomatic engagement.

Here we have part of the problem. It may seem like a small point, but Iran has not rejected diplomatic engagement with the United States – at least on this issue – it simply does not agree with what the United States is proposing. There are two sides to any negotiation, and the process requires some level of compromise to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Accordingly, there is a very important distinction to be made between refusal to negotiate and refusal to agree. The United States attitude throughout this matter has been a take it or leave it one – Iran must agree with what the U.S. puts on the table, or face the prospect of “crippling sanctions”. That is not negotiation, that is not diplomatic engagement. That is an ultimatum, which must fire up all of Iran’s resentments about past humiliations.

The article goes on to suggest that if the U.S. proposals are rejected, President Obama would consider imposing far more severe sanctions than the United Nations has already imposed. Iran: Sanctions are in the air presents some reasons why sanctions against Iran is a seriously bad idea. Iran: sanctions still on the agenda provides some further reasons for refraining from sanctions against Iran, offered by Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International affairs at the George Washington University, and Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council and author of Treacherous Alliance — The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States.

The Obama Administration’s aim in seeking to negotiate this nuclear deal with Iran is to buy time and avert a threatened Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. On the current impasse, the New York Times has this to say:

Officials in Israel, which feels the most threatened by Iran, have hinted that if Iran does not accept the Geneva deal they will revive their consideration of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama’s own aides say they cannot determine whether the Israelis are bluffing.

So the United States provides Israel with steadfast and unqualified support on each and every issue on each and every occasion, and on an issue as important as this, Israel leaves them to guess.

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