Topic: Bush Administraiton
Will wonders never cease? The US is now offering to talk to Iran about its nuclear program, and even more shocking than that, Condi Rice told NPR yesterday that she could even envision sitting down with Iran's foreign minister at some point in the future. This is pretty monumental shift in US policy considering that just a few weeks ago the administration was still hinting at military options being on the table and adamantly insisting that direct talks were "impossible," and that "bad behavior" wouldn't be rewarded. That sort of unequivocal, obstinate rhetoric ---mainly the expression of the Cheney/Rumsfled cabal's influence on the policy debate within the administration --- has given way to the more pragmatic State Department position of engagement, or so it appears.
This battle between the hawks and the pragmatists inside the administration has been going on since the W. took office, but it looks like now that the pendulum has swung in favor of reason. And not a moment too soon, it would seem. For the first five years of this administration Iran policy consisted of doing nothing, leaving the diplomacy to the EU3: France, Germany and Britain, while the neocons worked on their pet project of overthrowing Saddam and making the world safe for democracy. The result of this amateurish foreign policy has been to leave us severely weakened and bleeding in Iraq while Iran is now capable of calling the shots in a number of countries in the region; to our serious detriment if it so chooses.
To me, this issue of Iran's rise as a major powerbroker in the region is much more important to us than whether the Iranians get the bomb some time down the road in five or ten years. Whether this realization has finally gotten through to the brains trust in the White House is still in question. But as Trudy Rubin, the Inquirer's foreign policy expert pointed out in a column recently that this issue of Iran's role in the region is the "main issue," for the Iranians. Iran wants the US to recognize Iran's role as a regional leader, and drop the talk about "regime change." In fact, in return for our recognition they're interested in offering us security guarantees in the region! Javad Vaedi, a deputy to Ali Larijani, noted in an interview with Rubin that "the United States has many problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria," which the Iranians could help resolve for us. It would seem they have more to offer us than we have to offer them.
Of course, this messy situation could have been could possibly avoided if we had taken up former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami's offer to do a deal with them back in 2003. They wanted to resolve the issues of their nukes, terrorism, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but instead, W. decided to give them the finger as did his victory landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln. As former Bush administration official Flynt Leverett pointed out in a recent Newsweek article, "If we had pursued this three years ago and been able to work out a deal, the Iranians wouldn't have 164 centrifuges today."
But we didn't, they do, and they're not at all interested in giving up what they have. The Iranians have created their own facts on the ground that we're going to have to work around them. The first little spot of bother is Condi's preconditions for talks with Iran. Before we even get to sitting down to chat, the Iranians are going to have to suspend their enrichment program, which Hans Blix tells the Inquirer he finds "a little puzzling." He says, "so they're really demanding from the beginning, before they start talks, that they want the discussion to end...I doubt very much that this is useful."
You know, he might have a point. If the goal is to get Iran to stop enrichment with the offer of talks and other incentives; demanding that they stop enrichment before hand is kind of counterintuitive, isn't it? Michael Ledeen, the former Iran/contra figure, also sees a contradiction here: "She says we'll only talk to if the Iranians give up first." [Inquirer] And that's pretty much it in a nut shell. Why would the Iranians agree to all of sudden do what they've been insisting from the beginning they wouldn't do? They've stated again and again that they have the right to enrich uranium just like any other country that has signed the NPT. And it's not only a legal issue but a matter of national pride. David Gardner in the FT writes that the "US's attempted diplomatic siege has united the nation around the nuclear issue, making the right to technology and deterrence a totem like the nationalization of oil a half century ago." To put a finer point on this, Javad Vaedi says that suspension of Iran's program would mean "humiliation."
So as far as I can see, despite Condi's contention to the contrary, the ball is still in our court, we haven't really offered them anything. If this is some sort of ploy intended to show the world that Iran is spurning our "robust diplomacy," in order to get a UN resolution to impose sanctions or military action, that will fail too: Russia and China just aren't going to go along with it.
I understand that Condi has done what Colin Powell could have never done, get W. to overrule Cheney, and she's clearly working her fingers to the bone trying to get a peaceful resolution to this "crisis," but I just don't see anything coming of this. As long as the folks that brought us Iraq and Katrina have the final say in any of this, the whole project is doomed to failure. Ultimately, Condi will wind up in the same trash heap that all W.'s other cabinet members have ended up on with her reputation in tatters.