Talking to Tehran

Perhaps negotiations should be given “one last chance,” particularly unprecedented direct talks between Iran and the US.

Catherine Ashton, Saeed Jalili Baghdad 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani)
Catherine Ashton, Saeed Jalili Baghdad 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani)
Though the White House is publicly denying it, The New York Times is reporting that the United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons.
Based on anonymous “Obama-administration officials,” Iran’s leaders have expressed a willingness to enter into direct negotiations after the US presidential election – if the incumbent wins a second term.
One option reportedly under consideration is “more for more” – more restrictions on Tehran’s enrichment activities in return for more easing of sanctions. Specifically, the US and other Western countries would allow the Islamic Republic to develop a civilian nuclear power program industry on condition it agrees to strict monitoring.
Apparently, this means Iran would be allowed to maintain 3.5-percent enriched uranium, suitable for civilian use, and quit producing 20% uranium, which has medical uses, but which can also be enriched to weapons-grade 90% within two years according to most estimates.
Regardless of whether or not the Times’ report is accurate, an argument can be made for embarking on “one-on-one negotiations” with the Iranians. Ideally, all parties involved would prefer a diplomatic solution to war.
With elections just two weeks off, President Barack Obama does not want to be portrayed as willing to risk yet another American war in the Middle East without first exhausting all positive alternatives.
And biting economic sanctions, while preferable to a military operation, inevitably punish the entire Iranian population – men, women and children. If the possibility exists to peacefully end Iran’s aspirations for an atomic bomb why not explore it?
The problem is that Tehran has repeatedly used negotiations as nothing more than a stalling tactic to push off sanctions or military actions – overt or covert – while advancing toward nuclear arms capability.
Back in 2004 – when Iran was fearful it might be the next in line after US military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it signed the Paris Agreement with Britain, France and Germany (the so-called EU-3) according to which Iran agreed to suspend its enrichment efforts.
But this deal soon fell apart, apparently after Iran understood it was not in imminent danger of being attacked.
Just last March the US, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany (the so-called P5+1) agreed to resume stalled talks with Tehran that had been held in 2010 and 2011. The sides met in Istanbul in April, in Baghdad in May, in Moscow in June and again in Istanbul in July. But none of these “negotiations” led anywhere.
The Iranians sought to extract from the P5+1 relief from sanctions, while the P5+1 demanded that Iran freeze its nuclear program.
How sincere can the Islamic Republic be about negotiations with a coalition headed by the US, a country it calls “the big Satan.”
Not only is Iran responsible for the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but the Islamic Republic also aspires to carry out terrorist attacks on American soil.
Just last week, Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American used-car salesman, admitted in a Manhattan court to plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US in Washington. He also said the plot had been directed and approved by senior members of the Quds Force, the military arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responsible for foreign operations that reports directly to the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Still, perhaps negotiations should be given “one last chance,” particularly unprecedented direct talks between Iran and the US. This should be done not because we have faith such talks really have a chance of succeeding. Rather, it should be done for the sake of the American people, and of the citizens of other Western countries.
As sanctions continue to take their toll and a military strike becomes more likely, Americans and citizens of other Western countries should know that every option for a peaceful resolution to the dispute with Iran has truly been exhausted.