The United States--along with Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany--met with Iran in Geneva and officials, media, and experts proclaim it a success. Was its nuclear program what Iran defused or merely Western pressure?
It is widely claimed that the meeting in Geneva obtained three great achievements toward ending the long-running Iran nuclear arms’ campaign.
The first point is that the talks were conducted in a polite and civil manner. The Iranian delegates did not shout slogans and throw shoes at the Americans.
This is absurd. With typically short memories, observers forget that Iran conducted years of serious talks with all the participants except the United States. But of course these talks were used to stall for time and divide the foreign opposition. Any commitments made were promptly broken.
What is amusing about this point is that it reveals how behind the screen of Political Correctness and respect for all peoples, it is considered a revelation if Iranians don’t act like stereotyped savages. In fact, Iran has a long and successful history of diplomacy imbued in its political culture.
And of course the regime has a strong vested interest in not engaging in furniture-throwing at the meeting. After all, in every other venue it can continue its ideological extremism, repression, sponsorship of terrorism, and so on merely in exchange for a few hours of making nice in Geneva.
The second claimed success is equally hollow. Iran agreed to allow inspections of its hitherto hidden enrichment facility. Again, memories are short. In fact, the Iranian government announced that it would do so before the meeting in the same statement where it admitted the facility existed.
Let’s take a step back and consider the situation. For four years, Iran built and kept hidden the Qom enrichment plant. This is in complete violation of Iran’s treaty commitments and is one more definitive proof—as if one was needed? Well apparently it is—that the Tehran regime is seeking nuclear weapons as fast as possible.
At last, though, Iran got caught. So it basically said: in exchange for keeping this facility and for no punishment for building it we will allow you to do inspections. This is a clever maneuver, not a huge concession. Indeed, it is a victory for Iran.
The third point is the most significant and interesting. Iran has agreed in principle—note that since this implies that once details are discussed the promises will either be less attractive or not implemented at all—to send much of its nuclear fuel from the Natanz enrichment plant—the one we’ve known about--to Russia where it will be further enriched and then sent to France to be converted into fuel, making it far less suitable for making into weapons.
But guess what? And this is important : Iran's ambassador to Britain has denied that Iran agreed to turn over the nuclear fuel. And this has not even been reported in the Iranian media yet.
Get it? Iran is getting credit for a concession that it has not even made yet and probably doesn't intend to make!
And so when I say: The account we are getting of the meeting's significance is too good to be true there's a lot of evidence for that conclusion.
It’s hard to believe otherwise. After all, one must take into context the nature, history, ideology, policies, and leadership of the Tehran regime as well as its immediate need to consolidate power at home and defuse pressure from abroad. If ever there was a situation that seemed ripe for trickery this is it.
But here’s the best argument: To believe that Iran is ready to act sincerely in giving up its nuclear fuel which can be used to make atomic weapons, you have to conclude that the regime’s goal all along has just been to build nuclear energy power plants, not weapons of mass destruction.
From Tehran’s viewpoint, in just about seven hours of talks it made the threat of sanctions go away for months without taking any actual action of significance. Indeed, Iran and those it met with have a common interest: to make the public and confrontational aspects of the problem go away.
U.S. officials said that the issue of repression in Iran was raised at the meeting—probably very much in passing—but that sanctions were barely mentioned. Of course, the Iranians knew all about the sanctions already but the point here is that the tone of the meeting was to downplay pressure and to give the Iranian regime a chance to “go straight.”
The responses of President Barack Obama show clearly his strategy. He will support Iran doing reprocessing in exchange for the regime pursuing only a peaceful nuclear energy option. Remember that this is what Iran has insisted it has been doing all the time and will go on insisting until the day that nuclear weapons are obtained. In a sense, Obama—to use current jargon—is empowering the Iranian narrative.
But consider this. Let's say that the United States, the Europeans, and Iran agree that Tehran is just seeking peaceful nuclear energy and should get it. What happens when some time in 2010 it becomes clear the regime was lying and that it's made dramatic progress toward getting atomic bombs? Won't this make Obama look to be about the most fooled world leader since Nevil Chamberlain waved that piece of paper saying Hitler only wanted western Czechoslovakia and should get it? How would the administration react in that event?
At any rate, what this may well amount to is a plea: Please fool us better. Do a more persuasive job of hiding your true intentions.
That’s not, of course, what Obama and other Western leaders intend. Here’s what Obama says: He created a framework for resolving the issue by affirming that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear power as long as they stick by the rules of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By making clear his commitment for all countries in the world to get rid of nuclear weapons he united the international community behind him. That is what made possible the Geneva meeting.
Obama then presented three demands. First, Iran must allow inspections of the Qom facility, which it already has agreed to do. Second, it must build confidence that it is only seeking peaceful nuclear energy. This is to be done by the transfer of uranium to Russia for reprocessing.
He is thus giving Iran a face-saving way out: keep your program but don’t build nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, sanctions are put off and Iran will be able to talk for months about the details of the Russia reprocessing deal. In a separate but related story, the Iranian automaker Khodro announced a deal with the French company Peugeot to make cars for export. Khodro also has such deals with Mercedes-Benz and the Japanese Suzuki company. It doesn’t sound like they are worried about being isolated internationally.
After the Geneva meeting, they don’t need to be.
Here's a good article by Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post who seems to be the best journalist in the mainstream media writing on U.S. Middle East policy. Most of what you are reading elsewhere in the mass media is nonsense. Diehl's appropriate headline: "The Coming Failure in Iran."
*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org