Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The administration's policy shift on Iran

It seems to be the big story of the morning, that the US has had a policy shift on relations with Iran, agreeing to a face to face meeting. Now that would be the first face to face meeting in almost 30 years, but what the headlines seem to miss is the condition on that meeting: stop enrichment programs.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States will join multilateral talks with Iran on its nuclear program once Iran suspends disputed nuclear activities, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.

"As soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU colleagues [France, Germany and Britain] and meet with Iran's representative," Rice said.

While the US joining the groups at the negotiation table would be new and noteworthy, it hardly makes for a policy change. The policy is still no nukes for Iran; the only thing changing is that we'll joining the active negotiations along with the EU3 if Iran stops enriching uranium. That's been the policy goal, that's still the policy goal. We're just taking a more active role.

Will it work? I dunno. Right now I'm leaning to no, it won't work. Iran will push this to the use of force, because I don't think they'll take anything seriously until they see the destruction because of their actions. To them, anything less than that is weak. Words mean almost nothing. Why else do Muslim protests always seem to turn to violence? They don't respect anything other than harsh action.

UPDATE @ 11:32am: The Captain seems to be of a similar opinion. Of course he says it a whole lot better than I did...

This is just a proposal along the same lines as we have seen before, except with the carrot of direct talks. It's significant, but not earth-shaking. Iran won't agree to suspend enrichment, and certainly won't agree to the kind of verification necessary to pursue this offer.

[...] This really doesn't change much except for an American offer to join direct, multilateral talks based on a condition that the Iranians have already said they won't meet. It does provide an effective response to Ahmadinejad's latest PR campaign and puts the onus back on Teheran for progress. I suspect that was the entire purpose of this statement.

I'll update with other bloggers opinions as I find them.

UPDATE @ 11:50am: David Ignatius has an excellent op-ed in today's WaPo. Here's a snippet...

I suspect Iran wants dialogue now partly because it perceives America's position in Iraq as weak and its own as strong. That may be true, but so what? Washington should still take yes for an answer. The United States and its European allies this week are crafting a package that, one hopes, will include everything the Iranian people could want -- except nuclear weapons. The bundle of goodies should stress connectivity -- more air travel to Iran, more scholarships for students, more exchanges, Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization. The mullahs may well reject these incentives as threatening, but that's the point. Their retrograde theocracy can't last long in an open world. This very week, about 40 police officers were injured in a clash with demonstrators at two Tehran universities. One of the hand-lettered protest signs captured in an Iranian photo said: "This is not a seminary, it is a university."

It's worth the read. Check it out.

UPDATE @ 2:31pm: In from the Cold doesn't think face to face meetings will help the situation.

We've expressed major misgivings about this diplomatic track, but the Bush Administration appears fully committed. There is a very good possibility that Iran may merely use the talks to push its propaganda points, berate the U.S., stall for time, and give its nuclear engineers the months or years they may need to produce an Iranian bomb. Despite that possibility, the White House seems to believe that it can somehow reach an accord with Tehran, and those favoring a diplomatic solution have the upper hand in policy debates, at least for now.

The State Department insists that it is not "negotiating with terrorists," given Iran's long support for Hizballah and other Middle Eastern terrorist groups. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any effort to link the proposed talks with broader discussions on Tehran's terrorist ties and other issues of concern. In diplomatic terms, that type of linkage might be "premature."

As I said earlier, I don't think Iran will respond to anything we request unless we back it up with the language they understand: violence. I pray it doesn't come to that, but I'm certainly not going to delude myself into believing that diplomacy will get us everything we want out of this situation.

UPDATE @ 2:56pm: Iran's response to our "policy shift" and proposed face to face meeting if they meet the conditions. It's about what you'd expect...

TEHRAN, Iran May 31, 2006 (AP)— The official Iranian news agency said Wednesday the U.S. offer to join in direct talks with Iran about its disputed nuclear program was "a propaganda move."

It makes you wonder if the Iranians just really wanted to get themselves bombed back to the stoneage. Clinton may have been fine with idle talks with North Korea so they could lie to our faces and then go build nuclear weapons anyway, but I've got to hope that Bush won't settle for that sort of complacency.