The Western-Iranian nuclear road-show, for it hardly seems to merit the term “negotiations,” continues in Iran’s backyard. Tehran and Washington may insist on slapping each other in the face at every opportunity, but the region has changed greatly with the demise of Iran’s bitter enemy Saddam and the rise of Shi’i rule in Iraq.
Judging from public reports, Iran is absolutely correct to complain of a lack of balance in the Western negotiating stance. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the West’s treaty, its rules for managing nuclear technology, yet the West is violating its own treaty by demanding that Iran sign unique terms not provided for by that treaty. Worse, the West is doing so without recognizing the rogue status of Israel, which has a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons by all accounts yet refuses to sign the treaty. Finally, Iran will need very clear guarantees of what it will receive if it accepts the special constraints the U.S. is trying to impose. At what point will the U.S. stop trying regime change? At what point will the U.S. stop publicly condemning it? At what point will the U.S. grant it diplomatic recognition? At what point will all economic warfare against Iran be terminated? And those are just the negative issues on which the U.S. must concede completely. Beyond that come positive moves – security guarantees, trade, coordination on Afghanistan and Iraq, anti-drug cooperation, negotiation over rules for sharing the Persian Gulf.
Western apologists for the West’s hardline stance are, judging from public reports, correct that Iran is not making a sincere effort in the talks either. According to Tehran Times[5/23/12], Iran “offered a five-point package of proposals verbally on nuclear and non-nuclear issues during the negotiations.” The issue is far too serious to be approached with such unprofessionalism. Both sides have clear grievances. Iran’s behavior gives the impression that it is playing for time and hiding plans for a nuclear breakout, while the West is demanding discriminatory concessions while evidently pretending to ignore Iran’s many legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction. Any number of miscalculations could lead to consequences harmful to the world as a whole. This is no time for casual verbal offers that cannot be pinned down for serious discussion in a context of hypocritical public propaganda campaigns.
Such tactics merely empower extremists on both sides. Washington should realize that Iran has thus far behaved with moderation; if the West continues to provoke it, Iran could do much more to make life unpleasant. Iran’s foreign policy is markedly moderate in comparison to that of the U.S. or Israel: it invades no one, it has no nuclear weapons and thus is certainly not threatening to use them, it has no foreign bases. Iran should realize that the extremists on the Western side that it so likes to sneer at have their fingers on nuclear triggers. The two sides are playing a fool’s game. Neither side seems to have any confidence in the willingness of the other to negotiate seriously, setting up a negative-sum dynamic in which both sides are losing.
It is bad enough when politicians play a zero-sum game in which they reject compromises that allow each side to benefit and instead demand solutions that leave the adversary punished, humiliated, and vowing revenge. But when politicians play a negative-sum game, in which both sides are harmed, one has a perfect picture of unprofessionalism. The politicians of course have their reasons. Obama fears Republican electoral exploitation of any demonstration that he is thinking rather than flexing his muscles like a true cowboy. Given the even more vicious nature of Iranian politics, Ahmadinejad, already on the defensive for numerous domestic reasons, may fear for his life if he makes too many concessions. So both societies risk proxy wars, economic sabotage, terrorism (by Mossad, by the MEK, or perhaps by Iran), and even nuclear attack (by Israel) that would float a cloud of fallout (literally and figuratively) across the globe. The two sides are indeed playing a fool’s game.
No one expects the West to make all its concessions on day one, but it must offer some recognition of 1) Iran‘s legal rights, 2) Israel‘s nuclear rogue status, 3) and exactly what Iran would get for accepting any part of the highly discriminatory rules the U.S. wishes to impose on Iran. So far, the West gives no appearance of intending to negotiate anything other than Iran‘s surrender. That ain’t happening; it is a recipe for disaster. Moreover, if it somehow did occur, it would only set the stage for a more serious subsequent crisis: Israeli extremists would be emboldened and all Iranians would be infuriated.
As for negotiating a genuine solution, the Western position is still not even close to the starting gate. If the Obama Administration has any clear idea at all of what would constitute a “solution” to the U.S.-Iranian dispute, it is keeping that idea very, very close to its chest, and that is a tragedy, because what the world needs now is transparency: Iranian nuclear transparency and American transparency on a vision of how a genuine U.S.-Iranian détente might be made to work.