Iran And “Negotiation 101”
As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:
Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.
So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?
As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.
That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:
Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.
Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.
The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.
The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.
“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.
Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.
“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:
“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”
Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?
How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?
Well consider the internal politics of the country. You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate. You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either. Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.
Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US. It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions. He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change. The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.
And in the real world, results speak for themselves.
More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East. All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.