According to the Washington Post this morning, Iran wants to talk about its nuclear program:
Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.
The eagerness for talks demonstrates a profound change in Iran’s political orthodoxy, emphatically erasing a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran’s public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century, they said.
It seems to me that for months now, the United States and Iran have, in fact, been talking — but they’ve been using the media, both covertly and overtly, to “influence” and “negotiate”. They’ve sent their messages through (and to) their allies — a tactic that reminds Polimom very much of a child’s whisper game, where the message gets repeated around a circle, varying ever more widely from its original intent because of added layers of interpretation.
For children, the end result is hysterically funny. For the world, though, interpretations and nuances are deadly.
When Iran’s president sent that rambling theological letter to Bush earlier this month, Polimom had no trouble understanding what the US problem was with it: it didn’t talk about the nuclear program (enough), and its overall tone was that of a lecture on morality. Through western filters, it was so foreign as to be inscrutable, and I wrote:
Still, it’s probably wise to remember that the President of Iran views everything through religiously-tinted glasses; anything from that source is likely to have been alien from our government’s point of view.
So… beneath all the religious trappings and propaganda, do you think there’s any serious attempt at diplomacy here? Was Condi hasty?
Evidently, Iran has also figured out that the letter missed its mark, and a direct statement is required (WaPo again):
Laylaz and several diplomats said senior Iranian officials have asked a multitude of intermediaries to pass word to Washington making clear their appetite for direct talks. He said Ali Larijani, chairman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, passed that message to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, who arrived in Washington Tuesday for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.
Iranian officials made similar requests through Indonesia, Kuwait and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Laylaz said. American intelligence analysts also say Larijani’s urgent requests for meetings with senior officials in France and Germany appear to be part of a bid for dialogue with Washington.
“They’ve been desperate to do it,” said a European diplomat in Tehran.
In my view, the US cannot possibly say that efforts at negotiation are serious if we don’t talk to the other side. It’s kind of like filing for divorce when one has asked the neighbors to try to work things out, but the spouses haven’t spoken about it at all.
Now obviously we’re not married to Iran. We do, however, have a relationship (like it or not), and in many ways, this is like one of those really nasty divorce proceedings in which one spouse shoots the other on the courthouse steps.
I’ve read a number of discussions about WaPo’s article, and several are defending the US stance. The feeling seems to be that if we talk directly, the UN’s involvement will be rendered moot… and it won’t work anyway, so why bother. The Austin Bay Blog, for instance, writes:
The direct talks are a change. However, if the US and Iran talk one on one, the talks also signal the end of the “European” multi-lateral negotiations. It also means Iran buys more time to slip United Nations (and China and Russia don’t have to decided between veto and abstention, at least in public). And when these talks fail, the anti-American internationalistas will blame the US.
“When those talks fail…” and “end of the … multi-lateral negotiations”.
That entire thought process boggles my mind. If you think our credibility is shot now, imagine how we’ll be viewed if we refuse to talk — especially when Iran has broken decades of policy to reach out.
I don’t think the US has the option to decline direct discussions, and Talking Points Memo says it well:
It seems to me that this has been pretty clear for a while, but now it’s explicit — the Iranian government wants to engage in talks about the various US-Iranian issues, including Teheran’s nuclear program. If you’re concerned with things like America’s interests, not getting lots of people killed, and preventing Iran from going nuclear you’d take them up on the offer. I honestly don’t think this is even remotely a hard question. It might not work, of course, but even that would leave us better off than we are now as the weird kid sulking in the corner refusing to talk to Billy.
He’s absolutely right; it might not work… but it’s hard to know that, isn’t it, if we don’t talk at all.