Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tehran Fumbles Diplomatic Ball With Turkey Over Nukes

Following up instantly on my thought about Turkey as a neutral guarantor of everyone’s honesty in the delicate negotiations over Western reprocessing of Iranian uranium, El Baradei has proposed the idea only to have Iranian media immediately throw cold water on it, leaving Erdogan just a bit humiliated. That is no way to treat a new friend.

IAEA chief El Baradei’s trial balloon about Turkey temporarily guarding prospective Iranian uranium in transit to Europe for further enrichment provides the first test of Turkey’s bold initiative to broker a more peaceful Mideast. Iran’s initial abruptly rejectionist response suggests that Turkey is going to have a tough time making any progress.

The semi-official Iranian PressTV news service quoted an “anonymous” source as coldly observing:

It seems the IAEA chief is trying to take advantage of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Turkey to gain media coverage on a closed issue.

If that represents the official Tehran line, it shows a degree of self-defeating narrowmindedness that matches any of the diplomatic mistakes of its Western adversaries. Whatever Tehran’s level of trust in Istanbul, it behooves Tehran to treat the idea with public politeness. Is Ahmadinejad taking this opportunity to slap Erdogan in the face as he arrives for the big Islamic summit, or is this a further example of disarray in the now highly-factionalized Iranian decision-making process on this hotly debated issue?

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Parliament National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Chief, suggested some flexibility in Iran’s approach, though without reference to Turkey:

If we cannot buy 20 percent enriched uranium to supply Tehran’s reactor fuel, we could accept exchange in limited amount provided that we receive 20 percent enriched uranium in advance.

A detailed Tehran Times review of the uranium exchange issue emphasized that Tehran was still considering its response, with its distrust of the West being the obstacle. Meanwhile, Ali Larijani, a key decisionmaker on the issue, is in Najaf consulting with Ayatolla Sistani.

Turkish leaders have been pouring into Iraq in recent days. What might Sistani’s views on the nuclear crisis be? Surely the nightmare of a temporary nuclear storage facility in Iraq is not crossing anyone’s mind!

As long as Tehran conducts its own “arrogant” diplomacy, to use a word of which it is fond, giving Istanbul nothing in return for its efforts, Israeli right wingers will have no incentive to compromise, Turkey will be left out in the cold, and Iran will remain in Western crosshairs.

Iran has just failed a small test of its sincerity and unnecessarily made Erdogan look bad. Perhaps its official response will be more thoughtful, but at the moment Netanyahu and Lieberman must be laughing over their morning coffee.


Iran Must Judge

Iranian decision-makers must judge two issues to determine how to preserve Iranian national security:

  1. Can they trust the West enough to compromise?
  2. Would Israel actually launch an unprovoked nuclear war of aggression?

Leaving aside all the many issues of psychology, misinformation, cultural blinders, and factional politics, let’s just look at some facts that Iran must consider.

Can Iran Trust the West?

  • Washington is already conducting a highly public economic war against Iran with its sanctions.

  • Washington has refused further compromise even though negotiations are continuing.

  • Washington has warned that its patience is limited.

Might Israel Start a War?

  • Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister has just stated that Israel is not bluffing in threatening to start a war.

  • Western media report that Israel is in the midst of a war of murder to undermine Iran’s nuclear research; Israeli media coverage of these reports does nothing to undermine confidence in their veracity.

  • The Jerusalem Post, in its coverage of the issue, quoted right wing extremist John Bolton as noting that Israel has “done so in the past,” noting that Israel “undertook the very important operation, in September 2007, to destroy the North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria.” The Post also referred to a recent Israeli book claiming that Israel was sabotaging Iranian research.

To trust an opponent that is refusing to compromise, warning that it is capable of starting a war, already conducting an economic war, and allegedly also already conducting a war of sabotage and murder would take a lot of faith. This leaves Tehran in a serious predicament: if Tehran cannot trust the West to compromise but must take seriously Western threats of attack, then what choice does Tehran have? It can rationally neither compromise nor continue its defiance!

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