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Top U.S. Diplomat Thinks Talks With Iran Worthwhile

Earlier this month Iran met with representatives from six major powers in Istanbul to discuss its nuclear program. The meeting in itself represented progress, as it was the first time Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jaleeli, had met with the group in more than a year. And although little was advanced in the form of concrete resolutions, the two camps did agree to another summit, to be held on May 23 in Baghdad. Beyond that, however, what was achieved? And perhaps just as importantly, what wasn’t?

For that we turn to Thomas Pickering, one of the U.S.’s most experienced diplomats. Pickering’s sober analysis points up both the opportunities and the dangers in the current round of talks and highlights issues people should watch as they try to figure out where this whole thing is going.

On the positive side, Pickering notes that Tehran comported itself well in Istanbul; gone was the erratic behavior designed to stall, obfuscate and generally annoy the coalition that has been a regular feature of previous talks. On the surface, at least, Iran appears to be serious this time around. Iran’s Supreme Leader also re-issued his fatwa, which declared nuclear weapons were “not permitted” for Muslims, adding that they were a “cardinal sin”.

Time also appears to be on the side of diplomacy. Writes Pickering:

The current political situation provides some impetus for progress. Given a willingness on both sides to seek agreement, the pressure of sanctions against Iran, and Israeli interest in some kind of a military strike before the US elections, efforts to maximize this opening would constitute a wise and fruitful course of action.

But, as ever with Iran, warning signs emerged from the talks as well. The U.S. apparently proposed a bilateral meeting with Iran—and was rebuffed. There is also widespread concern that the coalition of major powers—France, Germany, Russia, China, the UK and the U.S.—have yet to reach an agreement on how to respond to Iran’s nuclear agenda. If discussions do advance, this lack of unity could prove detrimental, but for the moment it is not causing too much friction.

While Pickering believes there is currently a window of opportunity to make progress, he reminds readers not to expect too much too soon: “there is a long, hard path before the negotiators, and they are many miles from a ‘victory lap.'” Cautious optimism is the watchword here at Via Meadia too. A diplomatic solution is preferable to the military alternative, and Pickering’s report confirms other snippets that suggest Iran is being more cooperative than usual. Should the talks fail, however, there remain few options available to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear capability. We hope Pentagon planners are not scheduling a vacation anytime soon.

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  • WigWag

    Two points come to mind.

    1) Via Meadia says, “On the surface, at least, Iran appears to be serious this time around. Iran’s Supreme Leader also re-issued his fatwa, which declared nuclear weapons were “not permitted” for Muslims, adding that they were a cardinal sin.”

    If “Commentary” is to be believed, the idea that the Iranian Supreme Leader ever issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons is utterly incorrect.


    Ruthie Bloom, writing in “Israel Hayom” delivers an extensive analysis proving that there was never a fatwa delivered by an Iranian leader against the development of nuclear weapons; the whole thing is merely Iranian propaganda spoon fed to a gullible Western press.


    Secondly, according to Via Meadia, Pickering suggested that “gone was the erratic behavior designed to stall…”

    If stalling is not Iran’s intention, how does Pickering explain the 5 week delay between the first round of talks and the second?

  • Richard S

    So a top diplomat concludes that diplomacy, a long, slow, subtle diplomacy, that requires experts like himself is the best answer.
    He might be right, but he also is describing the path of most importance for himself and his fraternity.

  • Cunctator

    Without wishing to disparage Amb. Pickering, a dipomat sees what he wants to see. That has always been so and, after all, the purpose of that profession is negotiating resolutions to conflict. So, a diplomat will almost always be loath to admit that his kind cannot solve a problem.

    The way that the Iranian delegation comprted themselves in Istanbul is entirely irrelevant. What is important is what Tehran is doing on the ground. If diplomats are only going to look at what is said in a negotiating room, and not what is actually happening, the outcome of the talks is a foregone conclusion: lots of handshakes and smiles, and mutually slapping of backs by the various delegations, while Iran moves ever closer to acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

    There is no window of opportunity to resolve this situation peacefully, unless the Obama administration concedes that the negotiations are an end in itself.

  • ak

    Senior most experienced US diplomats, having gone a long, hard path, already talked North Korea out of its nuclear weapons program.

    Haven’t they?

  • vanderleun

    “A diplomatic solution is preferable to the military alternative, and Pickering’s report confirms other snippets that suggest Iran is being more cooperative than usual.”

    Well, well….. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

    I love finding these sweet and an warm sentiments scattered about the Western infosphere. They always make me feel so…. so…. snuggly!

    Alas, such feelings are only transitory.

    Here’s the hard cold news. There will be no DIPLOMATIC solution to this. Worse still, there will be no MILITARY solution to this before Iran gets its one bomb. No solution. None. Will. Not. Happen.

    And it will never come from the Pentagon. Those folks will continue to take their vacations as scheduled since those folks are not fooled into a winsome and touching intellectual pretense about “diplomatic” solutions.

    There may well be a post “We’ve got out first bomb” military strike but it won’t be coming from this government.

    Something may be forthcoming from this government, but it will require the sacrifice of an American city to a nuclear weapon first.

    “And that’s the fact, Jack.”

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    This is just wishful thinking, if the Iranians are willing to give up delaying tactics; it’s likely they no longer need much or any time to complete their nuclear weapons program. And nothing they say can be trusted because they say the Koran orders them to lie to the infidel.

    The Best solution is to bomb their soft target energy industry out of existence, and put all Iranians on foot and in the dark. They want things to be like the Islamic Golden Age of the 7th Century? Fine, let’s give it to them, they didn’t have any part in developing modern technological civilization anyway.

  • Albert

    In an attempt to introduce a little levity on this serious subject matter, I did a parody on the subject using the cover of The Week’s magazine as the basis of an “Iran Talks Parody” with President Obama playing the classic Charlie Brown role in kicking the football. My post is located at does not work, just google “Iran Talks Parody Follow-up”.

    I read in the LA Times this morning that “U.S. signals major shift on Iran nuclear program”. The article is at,0,353079.story. Allowing the Iranians to continue at 5% enrichment, while maintaining strict overall controls, I believe is good move in the sprit of a win-win compromise.

    So… there is hope that negotiations will work!

  • ARH

    Haha, according to many of this blog’s followers, perhaps we should add the Department of State to the chopping block of government entities like Education and Commerce. If it’s not sexy and doesn’t go bang, it’ll never work to secure our interests.

    Military might is like Thai boxing to diplomacy’s Brazilian jujitsu. To the naked eye, judo is slow, boring, spends too much time angling to peal away one finger from a grip, and unnecessary when you can just bludgeon your opponent into submission. Alas, international relations, and the societies and institutions that act on this grand stage do not simply lie there bleeding after a successful punch. They morph, adjust, grow, and evolve. It’s the judo that holds together the order to your advantage over the long run.

    It may well come to military action to prevent/delay Iran from getting the bomb, but let’s not pretend like there’s no room for diplomacy before, during, and after any and all military engagements.

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