Today the NYT reports that “the United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.”
(I’m not at all sure what to make of that phrase “one-on-one negotiations.” I’m assuming it means face-to-face meetings between American and Iranian officials as opposed to “back-channel” contacts, but in the land of diplo-speak, who knows? Moreover, this is hardly “the first time” the US and Iran have negotiated over nuclear issues, not least since Iran’s nuclear program began with full-on American support decades ago, under the Shah. But I’ll stop with the cavils for now…)
The new agreement is still informal. It comes after “intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term,” the NYT reports, but it’s unclear if Ayatollah Khamenei has yet signed off on it, or even when negotiations might begin. “After the US elections” is all that’s being said. And of course if Romney wins, forget it.
If this works out, it’s excellent news. Long overdue. There’s no way this whole standoff is going to be resolved without direct talks. So it was hardly a surprise to see the Israeli reaction, via ambassador Michael Oren: “We do not think Iran should be rewarded with direct talks.” Instead, he said, sanctions and “all other possible pressures on Iran” should be increased.
“Rewarded?” More sanctions? “Other pressures?” Does he imagine that Iran will simply collapse and disappear? That it can be bombed into submission? That no direct talks are ever necessary? Where exactly does he see any form of resolution in all this?
The answer is: he doesn’t. Conflict resolution is not the aim so far as he’s concerned. That’s his government’s stand toward Palestine: no negotiation, no resolution, and yes, per Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, bomb ‘em into submission. No give and take, no flexibility, no live and let live. Just build more walls.
If US-Iran negotiations do indeed take place, the logical outcome would be that Iran ends up with nuclear energy but not nuclear weapons. From Iran’s point of view, that’s a huge concession: Israel has nuclear weapons, after all, and the US has been one of the world’s largest exporters of nuclear-arms technology. It doesn’t take much to see why Iran objects to being lectured on nuclear issues by two nuclear powers, or that the very idea of “allowing” Iran to develop nuclear energy — “allow” is a word that crops up often in the NYT article — stinks of paternalistic hypocrisy.
But Iran’s leaders — its real leaders, that is, not front-man clowns like Ahmadinejad — may turn out to be a lot more realistic than Israel’s ones.
One thing is for sure: This news is going to figure large in Monday’s foreign-policy debate between Obama and Romney. And Obama couldn’t do better than quote R. Nicholas Burns, whom the NYT cites as the man who “led negotiations with Iran as under-secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration.” Burns sounds as though he’s had quite enough of diplo-speak: “While we should preserve the use of force as a last resort,” he says, “negotiating first with Iran makes sense. What are we going to do instead? Drive straight into a brick wall called war in 2013, and not try to talk to them?”
Update, Monday October 22: The NYT reports that everyone’s back-tracking. Looks like someone was pushing a little too hard. Or to use an unfortunate metaphor, jumping the gun.