Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Talking with Iran 

Too. Tired. To blog.

But I will offer up somebody else's thinking in lieu of my own. Yesterday's letter from Stratfor argued that the United States and Iran are about to resume speaking to each other in public, and that both countries have been signalling that it is time to move from non-verbal to verbal negotiation. Fair use excerpt:
A Nov. 29 editorial in the Iran News, the leading Iranian English-language daily, called on Tehran to respond positively to Washington's offer to hold public and direct bilateral negotiations regarding Iraqi security. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad first made the offer public.

The Bush administration's offer and the Iran Daily editorial indicate that both sides are eager to publicize back-channel talks that have taken place between the parties since before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Together, these developments confirm what we have long said: Public rhetoric notwithstanding, the Bush administration and the clerical regime have engaged in secret talks over Iraq and the Iranian nuclear issue. Each side's cautious tone also constitutes an acknowledgement of how publicizing their secret meetings presents challenges on their respective home fronts, and of how the public acknowledgement could give the other side an unexpected advantage.

Both sides' fears aside, this announced-before-the-fact public meeting could represent a major milestone -- one that could gradually move the two countries toward re-establishing some semblance of bilateral ties.

In mid-2003, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage disclosed having met with former Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi earlier that year. That admission, however, came after the fact, whereas Khalilzad's remarks show Washington giving the world advance notice. The move resembles the Bush administration's offer in the aftermath of the late-2003 devastating earthquake that hit Bam, Iran, to send a high-powered delegation to Iran led by a senior member of the Bush family and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole. Iran rejected that offer.

It appears that Tehran will likely not turn down the opportunity this time around, even though a rift is emerging within the ruling conservative camp between pragmatic conservatives and ultraconservatives over how to achieve Iran's strategic objectives. The two rival factions agree that achieving Iranian national interests necessitates an interface with the United States. But the debate in Iran continues, which explains why the Iran Daily editorial tried to placate the fears of the unelected clerics in the ultraconservative camp, who fear losing their grip on power if U.S.-Iranian relations become too warm.

This would also explain the paper's quotation of Mohammad Javad Larijani, director of international affairs at Iran's judiciary, who reportedly said, "In politics, we should work with our enemies 80 percent of the time and only 20 percent of the time with our friends."

Recently, both senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials and the U.S. State Department have not only acknowledged behind-the-scenes contacts, they have called for the groundwork to be laid in which both sides could enhance their ties. Further indicators of Washington's desire to engage Tehran include the recent U.S. acceptance that Iran can produce uranium hexafluoride (one step short of enrichment), and hints that circumstances might exist under which Iran could enrich uranium, so long as it could be objectively ensured that Tehran would not divert nuclear resources toward military use.

Here's a news article from Dawn, the Pakistani English-language paper, discussing White House authorization, ex ante, for Khalilzad to meet with the Iranians. More from The Indian Express here.

It is 10 pm here in Melbourne, and I have to get up at 5 to get on a flight to Adelaide, so I am not going to take the time to think this through. But that doesn't mean that we can't put the massive distributive intelligence of the blogosphere to work on this problem in the meantime. What do you think of Stratfor's analysis? Speak your mind in the comments, and I'll follow up with more developed thoughts later in the week.


By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Nov 30, 10:55:00 AM:

Call me a cynic, but this kind of thing always looks wonderful and I'm all for it so long as we realize that any agreement negotiated is entirely pro forma as the Iranians will disregard it at will.

The only real advantage here is the opportunity to give Iran something of value in exchange for their non-existent "cooperation". No, we won't get much in exchange, but if we're smart about what we offer, we might end up winning a few hearts and minds inside Iran, and that amounts to leverage to support our push to democratize the ME.

If we view this as a public relations initiative rather than as a serious attempt to get them to do what we're asking them to do (and view any cooperation we *do* get as gravy) then more power to us.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 30, 02:00:00 PM:

The past twenty-five years of American diplomacy are littered with the wreckage of Presidents who hoped to achieve positive contacts with Iranian "moderates" only to be left fleeced and humiliated.

What may be marginally more hopeful for the U.S. side this time around is that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is facing rapidly rising opposition by the middle-class and establishment within Iran. His support is increasingly confined to the clerical elite and the uneducated peasants and working class.

The best outcome for the West and the U.S. would be a popular revolt by the establishment and the middle class against Ahmadinejad and the clerics. This remains a remote possibility as the opposition in Iran remains remarkably passive. But the U.S. government must believe that disastrous mismanagement by Ahmadinejad may materially increase this likelihood. Thus contacts with mid-level officials in Iran's political and foreign policy establishment may end up being remarkably valuable should a sudden internal collapse occur.

But it is unlikely that any of this will occur. Meanwhile U.S. contacts with the Iranian government will reduce the morale of Iranian's internal opposition, much to Michael Ledeen's disgust. But given their passivity, it's not much of a loss.


By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Nov 30, 02:13:00 PM:

The past twenty-five years of American diplomacy are littered with the wreckage of Presidents who hoped to achieve positive contacts with Iranian "moderates" only to be left fleeced and humiliated.

I couldn't agree more :) Hence my comment about being careful about what we offer, as we're highly unlikely to get anything of value in return.

I think the problem arises when you give away the farm in hopes that they will still respect you in the morning. Sadly, they never do.  

By Blogger Chris, at Wed Nov 30, 06:59:00 PM:

If you don't have contacts within the government, how can you tell them what you are thinking about their actions? This seems to be a prudent course, at least acknowledging that we are aware of each other's interests.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Wed Nov 30, 08:57:00 PM:

We have had "secret" talks with them already. Far too much talking has been done by the EU and the various ministers of Iran that have no athority and most have been fired anyway.

Just how and what would you talk about to a man who thinks he might be the long missing 13th Iman, was enveloped by a heavenly glow while haranging the west, or to his and Iran's Religious boss who only wants his country to be the Center of, and the Leader of an Islamic nation that reaches half way around the world?

They are filthy rich, sexually dysfunctional, delusional and have egos the size of Texas.

Plus they admire corruption, deception, blond haired big boobed women and [but] despise anything not Islamic.

Yea, lets talk, pass me a beer will ya?

Papa Ray
West Texas

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