The Europeans play checkers while the Iranians play chess

In Istanbul on Saturday, the first new talks opened since January, 2011 between the six major global powers and the Islamic Republic over its illicit nuclear weapons program. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, declared “We want now to move to a sustained process of serious dialogue.”  Europe’s longstanding policy of dialogue with Iran’s rulers has been the cornerstone of bi-lateral relations between the EU and Tehran.
However, the EU entered this prolonged negotiating process with Tehran without ever delineating or defining deadlines. Have the Europeans been re-sucked into Iran’s bleak nuclear vortex?  Is it folly to expect that the Iranians will make concessions to stop the enrichment of weapons grade uranium?
The ever sharp German commentator, Dr. Richard Herzinger, wrote in his daily Die Welt column that “the participating negotiating parties are pursing one goal… to win time.” His analysis concludes that the process advances Iran’s aim to bring its nuclear weapons program closer to the “point of no return” because the process plays to Tehran''s penchant for mucking around and engaging in delay tactics.


The oft-quoted clichés about Iran playing chess against an exhausted team of Western checker players carry more weight than ever. Additional clichés about Iran’s bottomless level of patience—as illustrated by the country’s sophisticated carpet weaving skills—seem to be on display with the new round of bargaining. Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), wrote on his CFR blog on Saturday, “What happened in Istanbul? Judging from the account in The New York Times, not much. The EU’s Lady Ashton says the talks were ‘useful and constructive,’ but there is no real reason to believe this.”

Major European powers are part of the P5-plus-one team negotiating with Tehran. The five permanent U.N. Security Council members—France, the United Kingdom, China, the United States, and Russia—form the core group. Germany is the plus member.  The wittiest micro-blog I read on where talks are tending came from my FDD colleague, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, who tweeted in advance of the Istanbul meeting on Friday  “P5 + 1 = 0.”

Contrary to the excessively optimistic comments from Baroness Ashton, it is difficult for the outside observer to discern results. Europe being Europe, the logic seems to be that it is better to meet than not to meet. And it is better to talk than not to talk.  In what appears to be a response to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stating that Iran secured a “freebie” to continue work on its illegal development of centrifuges, US President Obama said on Sunday, “I''ve been very clear to Iran and to our negotiating partners that we''re not going to have these talks just drag out in a stalling process." He then added, "But so far at least we haven''t given away anything."


The EU’s leaders, including Israel’s most important Continental ally, the Federal Republic, have been largely silent about the results of the Istanbul talks.  Europe, to its credit, has imposed an oil embargo on Iran, which is slated to be implemented on July 1.  While the oil sanctions will undoubtedly inflict pain on Tehran’s coffers, it still seems Europe has failed to internalize the amount of pain necessary to change Iran’s behavior.


There have been very few instances where Iran’s regime has reversed its national priorities.

Take one of the successful examples.  The late Ayatollah Khomeini pulled the plug on Iran’s eight year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime because of the enormous economic and human toll on his nascent Islamic Republic.  After the deaths of a half million Iranians, Khomeini caved and equated his decision with swallowing "a chalice of poison.”

Does Europe (and the P5 plus one) have the staying power to force Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to drink a chalice of poison?