A friend of mine, Italian veteran UN diplomat Giandomenico Picco – who negotiated
with the Iranians during the 1979-81 American hostage crisis – told me that he
found this experience frustrating and dreadful. They “give brinkmanship a bad
name,” he said, characterizing their negotiation tactics as Machiavellian
manipulation, lying, cheating, always in convoluted backroom talks, trying to
dominate the rules of the Persian game.
That in many ways must be the
experience of the P5+1’s negotiators so far in Istanbul and Baghdad and that to
come later this month in Moscow.
But time is running out. What is at
stake is of extreme importance, not just for our own security (as the arch enemy
of the ayatollahs) but for world stability and security, given the ideological
and strategic ambitions of Tehran. This is not just about the nuclear military
capacity of Iran, important in and of itself, but also about the ability of the
world to hold the Iranians within a reasonably acceptable system of
international rules and a give-and-take system. If Iran chooses to be part of it,
deals are possible and important on a multitude of issues – nuclear capacity,
regional politics (relations with Syria), terrorism, export of fundamentalist
ideology, oil exports, etc., beginning naturally with the military nuclear
capacity that affects all other topics. If Tehran chooses to be a pariah state à
la North Korea, then other options must be considered.
I believe that
between now and the Moscow talks on June 17-19, a clear choice has to be put on
the table, not, as reported, through confidence- building measures, which the
Iranians will only use to gain time, but rather a clear take-it-or-leave-it
package with reasonable give-and-take and a set timeline. The demands of Iran
regarding the military nuclear option should be categorical – stop enriching
uranium above the 3.5-percent threshold used for civilian purposes, freeze the
already highly enriched uranium and allow verifiable inspections of all their
nuclear facilities, including the one near Qom (whose operation should be
brought to a halt).
In return for the implementation of the above, not
just the acceptance of it, there should be a gradual lifting of sanctions and
even a proposal of economic ties between Tehran and the West.
I doubt if
at this point the Iranians themselves know how they will react to a real
Their preferred option is to gain time by making
positive noises and futile counter-proposals, leaving all their options –
including the nuclear one – open. Therefore they must be cornered by the P5+1 in
the weeks to come with a clear take-it-or-leave-it proposal, and in case of
Iran’s full acceptance, a deal respecting their different system, identity and
interests should be offered.
In case of Iranian rejection, all options
should be on the table, including a coalition-led military option, probably in
2013 after the American elections. Yet there are other harsh measures vis-à-vis
a rejectionist Iran that should be considered – options that may be more useful
than a military strike that would likely only postpone Iran’s nuclear
Iran in this case should be declared a pariah regime and the
internal opposition that exists among many of the young in the country should be
encouraged, also materially, in favor of an overthrow of this backward regime,
which, above all, is a tragedy for Iran itself. The Iranian leadership does not
mince words when it comes to expressing horrendous and racist policies. In
parallel, the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama, should rise
above Mitt Romney’s bravado talk and election considerations in order to
pronounce a clear policy offering Tehran a comprehensive make-it-or-break- it
As for Israel, while Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak
continue their bellicose talk (which if it remains tactical may be useful) it
must also be clear that we have to join the international anti-Iran front. There
could be no greater or more dangerous policy mistake than turning Iran into an
While joining the international coalition, we also have
to think and act in favor of a regional coalition in light of the Arab Spring
and the Iranian threat. Israel too is in need of an “Iran diplomacy.” We have to
try to take advantage of the anti- Iran sentiments in the Arab world and their
interest to avoid a nuclear Iran or a powerful Shi’ite regime dominating the
region. That is true for almost all Arab countries as well as for Turkey and, to
a very high degree, the Gulf countries. This is probably even true of the new
Egypt, which after the second round of presidential elections will likely find a
balance of forces between the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and the army, neither
enamored with the Shi’ite clerics of Tehran.
Whether we like or not,
rapprochement with the Arab world on Iran demands movement on the Palestinian
track, as this would weaken the bellicose Hamas and Hezbollah and make new
Netanyahu happens not to like this, as he would
rather make coalitions with the settlers and their supporters in the Likud. He
is more a man of skillful political manipulations than of diplomatic
Not to speak of his foreign and defense ministers.
Yet the opportunity does exist, and if Netanyahu wants to strengthen our
regional posture vis-à-vis Iran, this route goes through Ramallah, just as the
route to an international coalition goes through Washington.
is key. Obama has proven to be a strong leader when it comes to the strategic
security interests of the United States, as seen in his war on terror. He also
did well in fostering the P5+1 coalition by bringing Russia and China on board.
Yet P5+1 is also One Plus Five, with the One being the United States of America.
And while important foreign policy decisions are not easily made in an election
year, Obama should act now in the national interest of the US – and in the
interest of the free world – by engaging in a grand diplomatic program: making
categorical demands of Iran, offering to take Iranian non-nuclear and
non-expansionist interests into account and, in case of refusal, attempting
overtly and covertly to undermine the regime, while leaving the military option
on the table.
We are living in a time in which the situation fluctuates
between great danger and great opportunity, and therefore a time for courageous
diplomacy and leadership. I believe Barack Obama is capable of both.
writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief
negotiator for the Oslo Accords.