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Iranian Diplomacy: Serious Or Stalling?

Following a one-day meting between Iran and a group of world powers in Istanbul on Saturday, some diplomats are cautiously optimistic that they’re making progress. Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jaleeli, met with representatives of the six governments—the U.S., UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany—for the first time in more than a year, and, according to the FT, he was unusually cooperative:

Dr Jaleeli gave no indication of the concessions that Iran might make when they meet in the Iraqi capital.

However, several diplomats said Dr Jaleeli was in a far more constructive mood than previously. […]

“The meeting ended up hitting the middle of my expectations,” said one participant. “There were no hard proposals from Iran but there was none of the propagandistic stuff that has marred previous encounters. They seem to want to engage.”

Incentives for both sides to reach a deal appear to be greater than in the recent past. For Iran, American and European sanctions are biting hard, and, like Banquo’s ghost, the threat of an Israeli military strike continues to hover over Tehran. For the Western powers, who also want to avoid the need for an Israeli attack, the looming U.S. presidential election is providing an additional impetus.

Despite these incentives, one can never rule out the possibility that Iran is simply using the meetings as a pretext to stall for time:

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on Sunday attacked the talks, saying Iran had been “given a ‘freebie’.

“It has got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition. I think Iran should take immediate steps to stop all enrichment, take out all enrichment material and dismantle the nuclear facility in Qom.”

Netanyahu’s attitude is understandable given Iran’s track record of using diplomatic talks as little more than a delaying tactic while continuing to advance its nuclear program. Still, the negotiation option has to be explored. Iran may very well be using negotiations as an attempt to split the forces aligned against it while playing for time. US patience with Iran cannot be infinite and at some point — not too far down the road — Iran will have to make a choice.

A peaceful solution that stops Iran’s progress toward a bomb is in the interests of everyone concerned, and the military option is so unpalatable that a serious effort to negotiate is clearly required. But negotiations can fail, and if these do, the options for the Obama administration will be fewer and uglier in the next phase.

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  • Mrs. Davis

    We are going to learn that Jaleeli is a graduate of the Kurusu-Nomura School of Negotiation and Persuasion. And we’ll all be shocked, shocked! to hear that there is deception from the Iranians.

  • Luke Lea

    N. Korea has been playing this game for how long? Ten years?

  • Otis McWrong

    Netanyahu’s continuing to insist Iran stopping “all enrichment” leaves him and his US puppet very little room.

    Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has a right to peaceful nuclear power (i.e. for energy). Iran already imports a significant amount of their energy (yes, I know they produce lots of oil. However crude oil and usable fuel are two different things – one requires refining capacity they do not have) and thus appears to have as legitimate of a claim for nuclear power as does the US or France or Japan or anyone else.

    If Iran agrees to periodic full inspections to ensure that they’re enriching for power and not for weapons, on what grounds would the US or Israel have for an attack?

    If we can leave with a Pakistan with nuclear weapons, we can live with an Iran with nuclear power plants.

  • WigWag

    It tells you everything that you need to know about the absurdity of these negotiations that Lady Ashton is the chief negotiator for the P5+1 group. If there is a better example of a languid sybarite than Ashton I would like to know who it is. Lazy, weak-kneed, boneheaded, soft and gullible it’s hard to imagine what the west could have been thinking of when the high priestess of political correctness was appointed lead negotiator.

    Although Ashton and David Cameron are of different political parties they represent the perfect metaphor for the decline of Great Britain. Suffice it to say that Churchillian or Thatcherian they are not.

    As the BBC points out, the chief Iranian negotiator, Saed Jalili refrained for religious reasons from shaking Ashton’s hand. One wonders if the so-called religious reasons were an excuse and what he really feared was having some of her insouciance rub off on him.

    Apparently the negotiations began with a dinner where just Ashton, Jalili and their two chief aids were present. This certainly inspires alot of confidence that the west intends to make clear that it plans to get tough with Tehran.

    The next negotiations won’t even start for another 5 weeks; it’s difficult to imagine what the P5+1 nations thought they were getting by countenancing this delay. When the talks finally restart they will be convening in Baghdad.

    I wonder whether Ashton is making dinner plans with Muqtadā al-Ṣadr. After all, she’s in town.

  • Walter Sobchak

    I am sure that Obama has told the Iranians what he told the Russians: Be cool until November, and then I will give away the store. They better play it his way because Mitt and Bibi are BFFs.

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