Iran’s Goal on Nuke Talks: Confuse
Yes. No. Maybe. Perhaps later. Take your pick: Any of those terms might answer the question of whether the talks over Iran’s nuclear program, which wrapped up Wednesday in Geneva, are making progress.
That kind of confusion is precisely how Tehran likes it.
And President Obama & Co. seems to be falling for it. Iran’s Powerpoint represented “a new proposal with a level of seriousness and substance that we had not seen before,” gushed White House spokesman Jay Carney. That followed a similarly glowing joint statement read out in Geneva by Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
Neither of them said much about the substance of the Iranian proposals, citing the need to keep secrecy so progress can be made.
Apparently the “big” diplomatic leap forward in the current round of talks — the first since the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, started his charm offensive — has to do with the mullahs saying “yes” to one of the West’s long-time demands: The mullahs would allow international inspectors to make surprise visits and to have more access to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear installations.
The Iranians, to be precise, indicated they’d sign the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This way inspectors of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency can be more intrusive in their scrutiny of Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Not bad for two days of work, huh?
Maybe. Turns out we know about this “offer” from an Iranian reporter who accompanied the delegation headed by the affable Zarif to Geneva. Zarif — and the reporter — are the good cops.
But a competing Iranian newspaper, representing the hardline bad cops, who accuse Zarif of already conceding too much to the Great Satan, reported earlier in the week that Iran is decisive: It would never agree to the additional protocol. So, yes. No. Maybe.
What’s more, on reading the Iranian press account more closely, it turns out that Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, says that Iran will “consider” signing the additional protocol — and do so only at the last stage of negotiations, after everything else was agreed on.
So maybe later. Or maybe not even then. As Gary Samore, the White House point man on Iran in President Obama’s first term, postulated in a phone briefing Tuesday, the Iranian delegation to Geneva must have brought with it nothing but “warmed over soup.” Samore, now president of the hawkish advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, acknowledged that he didn’t know the exact details of the Iranian offer. Nevertheless, he said that, knowing the Iranian ways of negotiation, you can hardly expect its new team to present anything new in the first meeting with the six powers.
But, he added, don’t exclude the possibility that Iran’s team might offer something more substantial in the future. So a breakthrough may happen much later.
With the renewed hunger for Iran diplomacy, the mullahs might not have to do even that. The Obama administration is so eager to eat any Iranian concoction that even warmed-over soup may suffice.
(Even before the talks started Tuesday, Iran got a down-payment on concessions: A sculpture inspired by Michelangelo’s “the Creation of Adam,” which since 1938 graced Geneva’s Palace of Nations, where the talks took place, was covered up, lest the male nudity-averse mullahs be offended.)
Washington officials are putting on a brave face. Secretary of State John Kerry set the tone, saying, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
But that’s just as credible as “all options are on the table” — a worn-out slogan that no one believes anymore. The truth is, to avoid “all options” (a diplomatic military threat), the White House will take a “bad deal.”
Until then, Iran’s good cops will make sure that the process takes as long as possible, offering yes, no, maybe, later in exchange for a concrete easing of sanctions.
That’s their game. And rolling back sanctions, with no real concessions on nukes, is the goal: The mullahs will look for a weak brick that they can pull out to cause the entire wall of international sanctions to collapse — without giving up anything meaningful.
So, should we expect big news during the next round of talks? Yesterday, the teams announced that round would take place on Nov. 7 and 8. At that point, surely there will be real progress on this issue. Or not. Or maybe. Or maybe later.
October 16, 2013
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