JCPA /Jerusalem Issue Briefs
Vol. 9, No. 9
16 September 09
- Iran's new proposal to the West did not provide any opening for serious negotiations on the nuclear issue, but rather vague formulations for the agenda of any future talks. Back in July, when the G-8 announced that the opening of the UN General Assembly "would be an occasion for taking stock of the situation in Iran," most international observers understood that there was a hard September deadline that Iran had to meet to begin serious nuclear negotiations. Unfortunately, at this stage, there is little evidence that the Obama administration is about to adopt effective action in a timely manner in light of Iran's policy of rejectionism, setting aside diplomatic engagement and moving to a policy of severe sanctions.
- Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), recently acknowledged that the Iranian stockpile of low-enriched uranium has already reached a sufficient level so that it was possible to talk about Tehran having "a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity." Tehran undoubtedly observed that no serious action was taken against North Korea for its nuclear breakout, either by the Bush or Obama administrations.
- The common assumption in Washington policy circles today is that even if Iran reaches the nuclear finish-line, the U.S. can fall back on the same Cold War deterrence that was used against the Soviet nuclear arsenal. However, Iran is a true revolutionary power whose aspirations extend into the oil-producing states. It is involved in both the Afghan and Iraqi insurgencies, while its support for terrorism reaches into Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. With Iran threatening the flow of oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz as well, through which roughly 40 percent of the world's oil flows, the nuclearization of Iran has global - and not just Middle Eastern - implications.
- In 2003-2005, Tehran engaged with the EU-3 for two years, exploiting the talks to race ahead with construction of key uranium enrichment facilities, while fending off punitive measures by the UN Security Council for three entire years. Iran today is far more advanced than it was then and the time for diplomatic experimentation is extremely limited.
In the first part of September 2009, it became clear that Iran was defying the U.S. and its Western allies by again refusing to open serious negotiations over its nuclear program, thereby ignoring the deadline it had been given to respond favorably to President Barack Obama's repeated overtures to engage diplomatically. After all, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on September 7 that, from his point of view, "the nuclear issue is finished." To be clear, he added: "we will never negotiate on the Iranian nation's rights." Days later, Iran's new five-page proposal to the P-5 plus 1 (the U.S., Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany) did not provide any opening for serious nuclear negotiations either, but rather vague formulations for the agenda of any future talks.
Indeed, the Iranian document began by asserting that the world was moving beyond "the difficult era characterized by domination of empires, predominance of military powers," in essence envisioning a period in which the U.S. was no longer a dominant power. It made reference to the need for "complete disarmament," but said nothing about Iran's own nuclear program. In his Friday sermon on September 11, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further backed the uncompromising Iranian nuclear stance that Ahmadinejad had voiced and which appeared in the Iranian document. It is to be remembered that Iran is presently in violation of at least five UN Security Council Resolutions that insist it suspend its continuing enrichment of uranium.
The U.S. Sets a September Deadline for Serious Nuclear Talks
Back in July, when the G-8 announced that the opening of the UN General Assembly "would be an occasion for taking stock of the situation in Iran," most international observers understood that there was a hard September deadline that Iran had to meet to begin serious nuclear negotiations. President Obama stated at a July 10 press conference after the G-8 meeting: "We've offered Iran a path towards assuming its rightful place in the world. But with that right comes responsibilities. We hope Iran will make the choice to fulfill them, and we will take stock of Iran's progress when we see each other this September at the G20 meeting."
Unfortunately, at this stage, there is little evidence that the Obama administration is about to adopt effective action in a timely manner in light of Iran's policy of rejectionism, setting aside diplomatic engagement and moving to a policy of severe sanctions. Engagement was the centerpiece of its Middle East policy and has been hard to abandon. For example, while rejecting the newest Iranian proposals on September 10, State Department Spokesman Philip J. Crowley reminded reporters that engagement was still official U.S. policy, stating: "We remain willing to engage Iran."
Moreover, within twenty-four hours he announced the Obama administration's willingness to join the P-5 plus 1 in order to meet with Iranian leaders directly and open negotiations, despite the repeated statements coming out of Tehran. The hard-line Iranian newspaper Javan noted the dramatic U.S. shift on September 14: "One day after the hasty response to Iran's updated package of proposals, America made a U-turn and announced that because these proposals could become a basis for direct talks with Iran, it accepts the talks over this package." Indicating Iranian understanding of the new U.S. policy, the article was entitled: "The Inevitable Acceptance of Nuclear Iran."
The first meeting between the two sides reportedly will take place in early October when Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, meets with Saeed Jalili, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator. They will be joined by representatives from the P-5 plus 1, but, according to Solana's office, the meeting will not yet be a "formal negotiation," which presumably will come at a later stage. The September deadline appeared to have vanished and the Iranians have gained valuable time.