walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Did the West Blink in Talks with Iran?

US diplomatic failures may be emboldening Iran’s nuclear program. A new piece in Al-Monitor argues that the West blinked in recent multi-party talks in Kazakhstan:

Iran received a promise that no new sanctions would be imposed on it in the near future, and it wasn’t asked to give anything in exchange . . .

It was no mere chance that Iran’s representatives left the talks with big smiles on their faces, declaring that the “ice was melting” in their relationship with the US, and that they were optimistic about their talks with the rest of the world. After two years of facing the six world powers as a united and unyielding front, in Kazakhstan the Iranians saw those powers blink for the first time. It seemed as if the Americans and some of the Europeans exchanged their hard line with a desire to make some “progress” in their talks with Iran, and provided de facto recognition for the continuation of that country’s nuclear program.

Whether or not the author is correct in saying the West lost the game of diplomatic chicken in Kazakhstan, perceptions matter. It isn’t just about Israel. Washington’s approach to Iran seems to be making the Arab world nervous. Stopping Iran’s nuclear drive is a huge problem for the Middle East, where Arabs see a nuclear Iran as threat to the peace, prosperity, and security of the area. Many governments are so afraid of a nuclear Iran that they would actually welcome an Israeli strike.

In this context, the US needs to be especially certain that it’s sending clear signals to Iran and other regional powers. Nothing could be more disastrous in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program than mixed signals. Projecting a strength we won’t make good on or suggesting a weakness we don’t really have would both be fatal. It would demoralize our allies in the region and could unintentionally bring about war with Iran. Let’s hope the US and other Western nations get their message straight before we blunder into a truly nasty situation.

[Iranian flag image courtesy Shutterstock]

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