Tuesday, June 6, 2006

How close are the US and Europe on negotiating with Iran?

Phyllis Bennis is very skeptical of the Bush administration's current tack on negotiations with Iran.  In Iran: Bush Isolated, Under Pressure, Tries to Talk the Talk Without Walking the Walk Institute for Policy Studies 06/02/06, she writes that the administration is hardly in full agreement at this point with its partners on the Security Council side of the negotiations:

While international governmental pressure on Iran continues, there remains a significant split between the non-proliferation focus of Europe (willing to consider sanctions) and to a lesser degree Russia and China (preferring enticements), and the ideologically-driven "regime-change" approach of the U.S. (favoring regime change, including military attack).  So far the Bush administration has failed to win broader support even for an anti-Iranian "coalition," let alone a unified Security Council resolution, but this White House has shown its willingness before to move recklessly and unilaterally despite global opposition.  So there is no room for complacency or assumptions that an attack on Iran won't happen because the military is against it or because it is so obviously dangerous.

She also makes an observation I haven't seen before, that Bush's statement of US intention to defend Israel during Ehud Olmert's May visit to Washington may have been a kind of backhand signal to Israel to exercise restraint:

During Olmert's visit Bush restated his pledge to defend Israel if it is attacked by Iran; some analysts saw that as a subtle warning to Israel not to take the military initiative against Iran. But Olmert also claimed that he and Bush saw "eye to eye" on Iran.  Whether Olmert might decide that he requires more than threats against Iran to stay in power, and how far he might be willing to act on his rhetoric, remain unclear.

She also emphasizes that the administration's policy of "regime change" in Iran may well torpedo any hope of a peaceful resolution of the dispute:

On the other hand, Washington's "offer" to negotiate with Iran only after Iran agrees to verifiably abandon all enrichment activity means that it is not yet a serious proposal. What happens to Iran's enrichment program - which is legal for civilian nuclear power use under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - is supposed to be the result of negotiations; imposing a its abandonment as a precondition means the U.S. is not yet serious about diplomacy.  Initially, Iran welcomed the U.S. offer but rejected the preconditions. But European pressure has remained intense, since it has been clear that the "E-3" negotiators (France, UK and Germany) could not offer Iran the one thing Tehran was clear that it needed for negotiations to succeed: a security guarantee that it would not be the target of U.S. attack or destabilization "regime change" efforts. Only the U.S. itself could provide such a guarantee.  But the Bush administration has not indicated any willingness so far to consider a security arrangement; earlier public State Department statements that "security guarantees are not on the table" remain on the table.

The U.S. also gave in to Europe's proposal to offer a package of incentives, including a light-water reactor and guaranteed supplies of fuel, designed to entice Iran into giving up its enrichment program.  Without a U.S. security guarantee Iran will likely reject that offer.

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