Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Latest on Negotiations with Iran

What can be said with certainty about our proposals for negotiating with Iran is that the situation remains murky. The Europeans and Russians and probably China (though they haven't been mentioned much) are making a reasonably serious effort to bring the negotiations about. It's still not certain how serious President Bush and Condi Rice are.

Everyone knows the negotiations with Iraq in 2002 and early 2003 didn't mean much and that our credibility was badly undermined by the failure to find a meaningful WMD program (the recent attempts by some right wing members of Congress to play politics with WMDs are dangerous since they further undermine our credibility; the world knows the WMDs were not there). Now our offers to Iran are more serious than anything we offered to Iraq but Bush and Condi Rice have a credibility problem that hasn't been fully addressed. Cheney, Rumsfeld and John Bolton still remain a part of the administration and they undermine Bush's credibility.

But Iran has much to gain by saying yes to the negotiations and the incentives that have been offered. If they eventually say no to any kind of negotiations, they may find themselves in a position of having to explain their answer to the world since the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are also a part of the previous negotiations, and part of the current negotiations (which are better organized) and will be involved if the United States has direct negotiations with Iran.

If this sounds confusing, here's an article from Mark John of The Washinton Post that adds a few more confusing details:
The Group of Eight industrialized nations told Iran on Thursday they wanted a "clear and substantive response" on July 5 to an offer of incentives to stop enriching uranium. But two Iranian officials immediately declared more time was needed.

A Western diplomat familiar with the issue said the Islamic Republic was unlikely to give a firm answer but that if one did not arrive by July 12, when major power foreign ministers next meet, U.N. Security Council action would loom.

UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns insisted the offer was "very straightforward" and Iran's chief negotiator Ali Larijani should respond as requested at a slated July 5 meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

(snip)

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Thursday Tehran would respond in August and not before to the offer.

In Tehran, influential cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Friday Prayers that Iran would not discuss "its obvious right to nuclear technology."

But Burns said Western powers were awaiting a formal reply from Larijani. "We are waiting for the authoritative channel, which is the Larijani channel to Solana," he said.

An approaching election is a poor time to evaluate the authenticity of the Bush Administration's diplomatic moves. But some of the signs are not good. As things stand now, I don't see competent diplomacy. If you want negotiations, you do the prep work to make it happen. And if things stall, you make a concrete goodwill gesture that makes clear to the world that you're serious. Let's see what happens.

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