In the Arena

Iran’s Gambit

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It turns out that Iran’s letter to the P5+1 (the UN security council’s permanent members plus Germany) isn’t a flat stonewall of nuclear talks, but a gauzy invitation for negotiations about, well, almost anything…except Iran’s nucelar program. And while I’ve been very much in favor of such talks in the past, we are dealing with a very different Iran after the June 12 elections.

There needs to be some further evidence from the Iranian side that the proposed negotiations are more than just an empty exercise to confer legitimacy on a regime that lost the faith of much of its public in June. For starters, Iran needs to provide the documentation on its nuclear program–which could well be legal under international law, if it only involves enriching uranium–that the IAEA has been requesting. But don’t hold your breath, especially now that the Russians and Chinese have indicated that they won’t agree to an augmented sanctions regime.

Which puts us back…where we always were with the Iranians. I would guess that there are two paths now–one public and one very private. I don’t see how the President can agree to talks on Iran’s terms, given the events of recent months and Iran’s refusal to comply with all the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that it signed.

Privately, it’s another story. I’d hope that U.S. diplomats are quietly probing the Iranians to see what sort of initial agreements might be reached if the talks commenced. A model for this sort of diplomacy was Henry Kissinger’s secret outreach to China in the early 1970s. If the Iranians can be privately convinced to make some initial concessions–including the documentation the IAEA seeks–the U.S. could promise some concessions in return: spare parts for Iran’s aging Boeing fleet, for example. The talks could begin with a mutual show of good faith.

Vague talks about the importance of global nuclear disarmament offer us nothing while conferring legitimact on the Khamenei-Ahamadinejad government. They are a recipe for dithering.

I’d like to see the United States resume formal diplomatic relations with Iran and so, I think, would the President. But I’m not sure about the Iranians…and it’s now essential for them to demonstrate good faith if the process is to begin.