Embattled on all fronts, Iran’s rulers now look to be shifting their tactics. The recent visit of UN arms inspectors to Iran went more smoothly than expected, with the head of the mission reporting a “good visit” and announcing plans to return.
It would be nice if this was a sign that Iran has decided to come clean about its program and offer the kinds of reassurances and policy changes that could defuse the confrontation, but there is little chance that this is where we stand. What is more likely is that Iran has decided to muddy the waters with peace feelers and feints for a while, hoping to split the coalition against it and halt the gathering momentum of the opposition to its plans.
It was to be expected that Iran would play this card at some point; the surprising thing is that it waited so long and allowed the forces against it to coalesce so strongly before beginning serious diplomatic countermeasures. This may be due to overconfidence; quite recently many observers inside and outside Iran believed that it was on a regional winning streak and consolidating its hold over the “Shia Crescent” from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Now that Turkey is awake, Assad is on the ropes, Hamas is looking for Sunni sponsors and the Gulf is united, Iran’s regional prospects look shaky and Plan B suddenly has more appeal.
Iran’s hints to Turkey that it is interested in talks and its overtures to the IAEA are not signs that the crisis is ending, but they are signs it has entered a new phase. The best and only way to promote a real agreement is to keep the pressure up on Iran. It is growing pressure that has brought about the current shift in rhetoric; if a shift in tactics is to blossom into a true change of policy, the pressure will have to continue and even grow.