Analysis: Talking over Iran's shoulder

Main purpose of Rice's announcement was to convince Russia and China that US was exhausting all diplomatic channels.

rice, bush 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
rice, bush 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Although the US offer to join the multilateral talks with Iran was conveyed directly to Teheran - and even translated into Farsi on the State Department's Web site - it is actually meant to reach other ears. The main purpose of Wednesday's announcement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to convince Russia and China that the US was exhausting all diplomatic channels before moving forward on the path to sanctions. The Russians and Chinese have been skeptical from day one about the threat that Iran poses and the need to take action to stop its nuclear program. US diplomats have been told time and again by their counterparts in Moscow and Beijing that there was still a long road ahead before approving sanctions and that negotiations with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime should be seriously considered. The US concluded that only by reaching out directly to Iran could it convince Russia and China that it had made every effort to avoid sanctions. Yet the US declaration that it was willing to talk was given only after it was assured the offer would be rewarded by Russian-Chinese openness to the idea of Security Council-imposed sanctions. By agreeing to take part in direct negotiations, the US also fended off complaints by Europeans that its refusal to participate in the talks undermined the prospect of reaching an agreement with Iran. Washington delivered its invitation to Iran with a fair amount of mistrust and criticism. At her State Department press conference, Rice made no effort to express much hope that something would come out of talks with Iran. She said the offer was "an opportunity for the world to clarify Iran's intentions. And it's an opportunity for Iran to make its intentions clear." Asked what was unclear about Teheran's intentions, Rice said she thought most of the evidence showed that Iran did not intend to comply with the demands of the international community. But still, for the US it is now a win-win situation. If Iran surprises the world and declares it accepts the conditions and is willing to discuss the package offered by the US and Europe, it will be seen as a huge victory for American diplomacy. On the other hand, if - as expected - Iran doesn't comply with the demand to stop nuclear enrichment, the US will be able to tell the world that it went the extra mile and that it is now time to take action.