Thursday, May 20, 2010
Just drop the arrogance with Iran
By Rami G. Khouri
The agreement on Iran’s nuclear fuel announced Monday after mediation by the Turkish and Brazilian governments should be good news for those who seek to use the rule of law to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation. >From both the American and Iranian perspectives the political dimension of the current dynamics is more important than the technical one. The accord should remind us that the style and tone in diplomatic processes is as important as substance.
Iran and its international negotiating partners have not reached agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs in the past half-decade, to a large extent because American- and Israeli-led concerns have been translated into an aggressive, accusatory, sanctions-and-threats-based style of diplomacy that Iran in turn has responded to with defiance.
Iran’s crime, in the eyes of its main critics in Washington and Tel Aviv (they are the two that matter most, as other Western powers play only supporting roles), is not primarily that it enriches uranium, but that it defies American-Israeli orders to stop doing so. (The Iranian response, rather reasonable in my view, is that it suspended uranium enrichment half a decade ago and did not receive the promises it expected from the United States and its allies on continuing with its plans for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. So why suspend enrichment again?)
The Iranians are saying, in effect, that this issue is about two things for them, one technical and one political: the technical issue is about the rule of law on nuclear non-proliferation and the right of all countries to use nuclear technology peacefully. The political issue is about treating Iran with respect, and negotiating with it on the basis of two critical phenomena: first, addressing issues of importance to Iran as well as those that matter for the American-Israeli-led states; and, second, actually negotiating with Iran rather than condescendingly and consistently threatening it, accusing it of all sorts of unproven aims, and assuming its guilt before it is given a fair hearing.
The political imperative in the agreement announced this week is clear, and repeats the basic principles that Iran and American-led negotiators agreed on in principle last autumn: sending abroad Iran’s low-grade enriched uranium and transforming it into fuel rods for use in Tehran’s research reactor. The political dynamics should also be clear: Iran is willing to negotiate seriously and enter into agreements that respect the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, if such talks are conducted in a non-colonial manner and also acknowledge Iran’s own national interests.
The first paragraph of the 12-point agreement is the most important, with Brazil, Turkey and Iran stating that: “We reaffirm our commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in accordance with the related articles of the NPT, recall the right of all State Parties, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy (as well as nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment activities) for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”
Article 2 speaks of looking ahead to a “positive, constructive, non-confrontational atmosphere leading to an era of interaction and cooperation.”
These suggest that a win-win option is available (and always has been, in my view and that of many others in this region) that respects sovereign rights on nuclear development while preventing nuclear weapons proliferation. Whether this option will be pursued reflects political, rather than technical, dictates. The signs are that the Obama administration remains committed to its schizophrenic policy of reaching out to Iran while also sermonizing to it with condescension and even some disdain.
This was most recently reflected in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement a few days ago, after she predicted, incorrectly, that the Turkish-Brazilian mediation would fail: “Every step of the way has demonstrated clearly to the world that Iran is not participating in the international arena in the way that we had asked them to do, and that they continued to pursue their nuclear program.”
This presumptuous, aggressive approach has failed to change Iran’s nuclear strategy, while the Turkish-Brazilian approach has been more successful. The coming days and weeks will clarify if the US-Israel-led side finally grasps the important political lessons of the Turkish-Brazilian mediation: Drop the arrogance and double standards, negotiate fairly and realistically, and accept that Iran is a power that is at once strong, technically proficient, and proud of its sovereignty; and on that basis agree to lock in its respect for existing nuclear non-proliferation standards and conventions.
Iran and Turkey represent something novel and historically significant in the Middle East: Muslim-majority countries that are politically self-confident and dare to stand up to the US, Israel or anyone else who encroaches on what they see as their strategic national interests. Washington and Tel Aviv remain confused on how to deal with such new phenomena.
Posted by Michele Kearney at 10:03 AM