The Region: The president, Iran and the 'or else' factor

The Region The presiden

It is widely claimed that the meeting in Geneva last week between the US - along with Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - and Iran obtained three great achievements toward ending the Iranian nuclear campaign. The first point was that the talks were conducted in a polite and civil manner; the Iranian delegates did not shout slogans nor throw shoes at the Americans. This is absurd. With typically short memories, observers forget that Iran conducted years of serious talks with all the participants except the United States. But of course these talks were used to stall for time and divide the foreign opposition. Any commitments made were promptly broken. What's amusing is that this point reveals how, behind the screen of political correctness, it is considered a revelation that Iranians don't act like stereotyped savages. In fact, Iran has a long and successful history of diplomacy imbued in its political culture. And of course the regime has a vested interest in not engaging in footwear-throwing at the meeting. After all, in every other venue it can continue its ideological extremism, repression, and terror-sponsoring. The second alleged success is equally hollow. Iran agreed to allow inspections of its hitherto hidden enrichment facility. Again, memories are short. In fact, the Iranian government announced that it would do so before the meeting in the same statement where it admitted the facility existed. Let's consider the situation. For four years, Iran built and kept hidden the Qom enrichment plant. This is in complete violation of Iran's treaty commitments and is one more definitive proof - as if another was needed - that Teheran is seeking nuclear weapons ASAP. Finally, though, Iran got caught. So it basically said: in exchange for keeping this facility and for no punishment for building it, we will allow you to do inspections. This is a clever maneuver, not a huge concession and can be considered a victory for Iran. Thirdly, Iran has agreed in principle to send much of its nuclear fuel from the Natanz enrichment plant - the one we've known about - to Russia where it will be further enriched and then to France to be converted into fuel, making it far less suitable for weapons production. But guess what? The Iranian ambassador to Britain has denied that Iran agreed to turn over the nuclear fuel. And this has not even been reported in the Iranian media yet. Iran is getting credit for a concession that it has not even made yet and probably doesn't intend to make! THE ACCOUNT we are getting of the meeting's significance is too good to be true. After all, one must take into context the nature and ideology behind the Teheran regime as well as its immediate need to consolidate power at home and defuse pressure from abroad. If ever there was a situation that seemed ripe for trickery this is it. To believe that Iran is ready to sincerely give up its nuclear fuel which can be used to make atomic weapons, you have to conclude that the regime's goal all along was to build nuclear energy power plants, not weapons of mass destruction. From Teheran's viewpoint, in just seven hours of talks it made the threat of sanctions go away for months without taking any significant action. Indeed, Iran and those it met with have a common interest: to make the public and confrontational aspects of the problem go away. US officials said that the issue of repression in Iran was raised at the meeting but that sanctions were barely brought up. Of course, the Iranians knew all about the sanctions already but the point here is that the tone of the meeting was to downplay pressure and to give Iran a chance to "go straight." Obama's response to this matter shows his strategy. He will support Iran doing reprocessing in exchange for the regime pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy option. Remember that this is what Iran has insisted it has been doing the whole time and will go on insisting until the day that nuclear weapons are obtained. Obama - to use current jargon - is empowering the Iranian narrative. What this may well amount to is a plea: Fool us, do a more persuasive job of covering over your project without actually doing so. That's not, of course, what Obama and other Western leaders intend. Obama created a framework for resolving the issue by affirming that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear power as long as they stick by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By making clear his commitment for all countries in the world to get rid of nuclear weapons he united the international community behind him. That is what made the Geneva meeting possible. Obama then presented demands: Iran must allow inspections of the Qom facility, which it has agreed to do and it must build confidence that it is only seeking peaceful nuclear energy - by transfering the uranium to Russia for reprocessing. He is thus giving Iran a face-saving way out: keep your program but don't build nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, sanctions are off the table and Iran will be able to talk for months about the details of the Russia reprocessing deal. In a separate but related story, the Iranian automaker Khodro announced a deal with the French company Peugeot to make cars for export. Khodro also has such deals with Mercedes-Benz and Suzuki. It doesn't sound like Iranians are worried about being isolated internationally. After the Geneva meeting, they don't need to be.