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US Offer to Iran of Nuclear Talks Widely Misunderstood

By Steve Schippert | June 1, 2006

Reading media reaction, whether as reportage or editorial, to yesterday’s statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States is open to direct talks with Iran on the nuclear crisis is largely disappointing. Nearly every report or editorial places an inappropriate emphasis upon the offer to Iran of direct talks without understanding – or at least properly explaining to news consumers – the profound significance of the prerequisite condition of the cessation of all enrichment activities.

The enrichment cessation demand – decidedly not a policy shift, reversal or concession – is mentioned by each, but readily discarded and supplanted by lengthy conversation and coverage of what direct talks with Iran may mean. This misplaced focus on ends rather than means puts the proverbial cart clearly and ill-advisedly before the horse.

Let us be clear: The enrichment cessation demand has never been nor will it become a negotiable point for the Bush Administration.

Let us also be clear: Tehran has made it unmistakable that enrichment is their right and that enrichment has never been nor will it become a negotiable point.

The cessation demand has each time in the past been rejected out of hand by the Iranian regime, whether made by the US, the EU-3 or Russia. The question is not whether the US will hold direct talks with Iran. The question is more appropriately: Will Iran’s enrichment cessation stance change in pursuit of direct one-on-one talks with the US?

That one of Iran’s reactions yesterday was to dismiss the American offer as “propaganda” certainly buttresses this stalwart position by the mullah regime.

If that still leaves some in doubt, within the context of Iran’s continued open defiance of IAEA and UN Security Council cessation demands, consider Iran's simultaneous announcement yesterday of open international bidding for the construction of two new nuclear reactors, expected to commence within two months. The Iranian position on nuclear enrichment could hardly be clearer.

If the American position on complete Iranian enrichment cessation is equally clear and remains equally consistent – and there is absolutely no indication beyond fearful speculation that this will change – then all of the ‘talk about talks’ clearly revolves around a moot point. Getting there via Iranian enrichment abandonment appears to remain as impossible today as it was last week, last month or last year.

With that clearly in mind, consider then the various quotes from both reportage and editorial reaction focusing on the ends without due consideration of the means.

New York Times - Bush's Realization on Iran: No Good Choice Left Except Talks: After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice.

The Boston Globe: Rice's choice for Iran: What Rice did not say is that the course reversal she announced yesterday also has the potential to provide the administration with a crucial policy option it had been denying itself. Until now, President Bush has confined himself to a choice between US backing for the fruitless talks that the EU3 -- France, Germany, and Britain -- has been conducting with Iran and a military option that no rational policy maker would wish to exercise.

BBC: Last diplomatic throw of dice? Two scenarios are opening up. There is a benign one and a malign one. In the benign one, the doves, led by the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have won the argument in Washington. This, it is hoped, will lead to direct talks with Iran, which will agree on a package under which to end its enrichment of uranium. In exchange, it will receive a bag of goodies that will include help with civil nuclear power and trade concessions.

Detroit Free Press: U.S.: If Iran holds off, we'll talk The Bush administration reversed its policy, offering to join European talks with Iran about limiting its nuclear program -- if Iran "verifiably suspends" the enrichment of uranium, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.

OpinionJournal: Condi's Iran Gambit - Ahmadinejad gets the direct talks he wanted.: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly released a long, insulting letter seeking direct talks with the U.S. last month, President Bush dismissed it as unworthy of reply. But yesterday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered the real U.S. answer: Yes. In a surprising policy reversal, Ms. Rice offered to negotiate directly with Iran's mullahs if they first suspend all uranium enrichment and cooperate with United Nations arms inspectors.

Of the above, only The Detroit Free Press immediately emphasizes the fact that Iran has consistently refused enrichment cessation demands. This is absolutely critical to understanding the true intent of the offer, which is to expose Iran’s true intentions of indigenous nuclear weapons capability and not nuclear power. This exposure is being pursued systematically, step by step.

What is on display is a concerted final stretch effort to secure a significant Chapter VII resolution with the support of Russia and China, complete with efforts to assure Iran nuclear power it says it desires (and other sweeteners) and real consequences should Iran remain defiant. Vital Perspective presents this aspect well.

The last two major steps in exposing real Iranian interests - which most believe are not in nuclear power but nuclear weapons - are now culminating. First, in Europe’s recent offer of nuclear power plant construction, nuclear fuel supplies and painfully favorable non-nuclear trade incentives, satisfying Iran's stated nuclear power desires. And finally, in the US offer of direct participation in international multi-party talks with Iran, satisfying the underlying Iranian desire for recognition and potentially providing the ability to drive a wedge between the American and European strategic unity on the Iranian nuclear crisis.

But so long as both steps contain the enrichment abandonment pre-condition for Iran, neither attempt is likely to see Iranian participation, decisively demonstrating Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

The Opinion Journal editorial surprisingly dismisses this nearly altogether as seemingly far too unlikely. While it is not unreasonable to fear the worst from Foggy Bottom, perhaps Ms. Rice deserves more credit for fortitude than given. Consider the following line that immediately followed the above-quoted Opinion Journal text.

The Secretary of State seems to have convinced Mr. Bush--over the doubts of Vice President Cheney and others--that this was the only way to prevent the U.S. from being isolated as our European allies ran for cover and Russia resisted any U.N. sanctions. How this new U.S. concession will impress the mullahs to give in is now Ms. Rice's burden to demonstrate. Good luck. [Emphasis added]

Good luck indeed…if “impress[ing] the mullahs to give in” is what defines Condi's Iran Gambit.

But, couched in the steadfast pre-condition that it is (and should be), Condi's True Iran Gambit is not the risk of concessions and thus direct talks with Iran. Condi's True Iran Gambit is rather the risk of Iran actually publicly accepting such an offer as is, committing the US to talks (and more delays) with undetermined parts of their clandestine nuclear program as of yet unknown and therefore knowingly unverifiable. Regardless of potential words offered by the current Iranian regime, their nuclear intent can hardly be clearer than that already demonstrated, even within the past three years, much less the past two decades.

America backing itself into a diplomatic corner by a surprise public acceptance (and accompanying clandestine defiance as previously demonstrated) from Iran is the real danger of the ‘gambit’. If Iran calls the American bluff, there will be definite trouble at Foggy Bottom – and much jubilation at Turtle bay.

Note with significance that Iran, while dismissing it as ‘propaganda’, has yet to officially reject it. Surely they are pondering precisely the same as these words are written.

Until such time, much of the current worry (or celebration, depending on perspective) will likely prove for naught so long as the Bush Administration maintains its consistent and proper demand of complete enrichment cessation. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, "We will not give up our nation's natural right, we will not hold talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over mutual concerns."

For those concerned over perceived potential American concessions to the world’s primary state sponsor of terrorism, we are no closer to appeasement than last week, last month or last year. For those pleased by the perceived ‘major policy reversal’ by the Bush Administration, we are no closer to a diplomatic solution, either. So long as Iran maintains the ‘No enrichment, no dice’ stance opposite the American and European (let alone the also ignored IAEA and UN Security Council) ‘No enrichment, period’ position, nothing has changed.

What is nearer being achieved, for those still somehow unconvinced, is the outright removal of any and all perceived Iranian ambiguity and doubt about its nuclear weapons quest.

7 Comments

Condi has outwitted Ahmadhi-Nejad. The liberal bloggers and the NYT haven't figured it out. Dinner-Jacket believes that he has buffaloed Rice into a position where if he holds out, he can coerce the Administration into talks on his terms. His pride will not allow him to make a concession to a woman. He will hold out for a withdraw of the enrichment clause, fully expecting the Eurotrash to do his bidding.

Rice is counting on this. Her objective is not talks with Tehran. It's to expose Ahmadhi-Nejad's true objectives, which is to build an atomic bomb. In so doing, this will lessen international support for A-N's position.

This article is like the pot calling the kettle black. Rice did not say "cessation", she said "suspends". Suspends implies not doing it for a finite duration, whereas cessation is more indefinite.

Don't worry, Secretary Rice's actual verbiage makes it strictly impossible for Iran to comply.

What she said was that Iran must "persuasively demonstrate that it has permanently abandoned its quest for nuclear weapons."

How could anyone ever prove this? That Iran won't quest for nuclear weapons in 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years?

Don't worry. Even though Iran was complying with IAEA requests that they had no legal obligation to comply with, and that not one shred of physical evidence on Earth exists to indicate that they are working on weapons (as the IAEA admits) Secretary Rice's "offer" was a fraud.

You can't handle the truth.

Not only has Rice said that the only way Iran can get talks is if it proves something that no one on Earth could prove (just as Saddam could never prove he had no WMD), part of the problem not seen is what it means to "permanently abandon[] its quest for nuclear weapons."

If you ask John Bolton, and I'm sure Bolton is in the thick of these arrangements, the very existence of nuclear scientists working on matters nuclear is too much!

And then, in charge of the very program to secure Iraqi WMD scientists and engineers, BOLTON DROPPED THE BALL.

What heros attack Iran! Go John "Plato's Retreat" Bolton!

Truth:

Saddam may not have been able to prove non-existance of WMD, but he could have decided not to obstruct the UNSCOM/UNMOVIC inspections at every turn and decided not to play shell games. But he did, whether to actually hide the weapons existance from the UN or to hide their non-existance from Iran. Debate which he did all day long. It matters none.

Either way, he played a dangerous game and lost.

Iran plays the same game. Period.

Truth:

While Iran claims peaceful power intentions, they also claim that they have always abided by the Nonproliferation Treaty voluntarily. Yet, when confronted with irrefutable evidence of vast purchases of equipment and technology (including warhead design plans) from the world's largest clandestine nuclear proliferator, the AQ Khan Network, they admitted (eventually) to precisely that.

How is that abiding by the NONproliferation Treaty? (That's a rhetorical question.)

How is their declaration to share nuclear technology with any and all Muslim countries abiding by the NPT?

As far as your Bolton argument, it has nothing to do with anything in this post.

I am curious why none of the media covers the most important aspect of the Malvo shootings. If you look at Newspapers on the dates when the shootings are underway you discover something I find quite interesting. The shootings begin to dominate the news the day before
the debate on the Iraq war starts and they catch them the day after the declaration of war??? If you ask most people "do you remember the debate about starting the second Iraq war", they will all answer "yes of course". But if you followup with the question "name one point in the debate, a speech by a Senator or where their senator
stood", nada.

Almost no one noticed any aspect of the most important debate in the last 50 years?

An interesting and odd fact... No one has done a story on what the real impact of the shootings were. It was to virtually eliminate the war debate from the media.

The special forces background of the senior member of the pair also seems to get short shrift.

Smells a little fishy to me based on what little I know about it. At minimum its a very significant part of the story, i.e. that a common murderer had such an impact on our political process. Why is nobody covering this obvious fact?

Dan Pride

So Iran refusing to be bullied into giving up it's inallienable right (under the NPT signed by both itself and the USA) to enrich uranium means that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons?!

Uhmm, that's a bit thin, to put it politely.

It's also blatantly ignoring some fairly well-known issues around the difficulties involved in producing uranium enriched to the required grade for weapons.

What is a far more realistic explanation (obvious to anyone outside the USA), is that Iran quite possibly does not trust others to stick to agreements to supply enriched uranium and wants to produce it's own, for both pragmatic AND prestige reasons.

The US hardly has a good track record of abiding by it's promises (hello N.Korea), so any one other than those in the US are well aware of why no-one would trust what the US has to say or promise.

This is all such an obvious ploy for the US to try and sneak towards it's goal of attacking Iran, a nation who hasn't attacked anyone else since the 1700's.

Pity the same cannot be said about the US.

What really intrigues me is how the MSM and what seems to be a significant portion of the US population just don't see the obvious dishonesty of their own government.