Savir's Corner: Diplomacy on Iran

I doubt if at this point the Iranians themselves know how they will react to a real give-and-take offer.

A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor 311 R (photo credit: Reuters/ Raheb Homavandi)
A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters/ Raheb Homavandi)
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 give-and-take offer.
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 option.
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 proposition.
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 “Israeli issue.”
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 coalitions possible.
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 coalition-building.
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.
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.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.