Sunday, April 15, 2012

Opportunity for Obama to Resolve His Iran Dilemma

Tehran has just placed a great opportunity in the hands of Western nuclear negotiators by stressing that Khamenei's anti-bomb fatwa creates an opportunity for non-proliferation. Obama will be evaluated by historians in great measure by how he responds.

In reaction to the just completed round of nuclear talks between Iran and the West, Iran's chief negotiator Jalili has described Khamenei's fatwa calling nuclear arms "haram" (morally forbidden) as having “created an opportunity for concrete steps toward disarmament and non-proliferation.” 

Jalili's statement prepares the way in Tehran for nuclear compromise as the morally correct and politically correct way forward, if only the West will make some effort to present attractive offers couched respectfully. Tehran has clearly stated, in American language, that compromise is "on the table." This is a hugely significant statement for an extremely hostile and surely somewhat nervous regime that has been struggling since its inception for independence from Western domination.

It is always easier for politicians to announce how tough they are and to portray compromise as "treachery," as every American who has been awake for the past 15 years well knows. In a weak state under threat of attack, such tactics are all the easier. In that context, Jalili's remark should be treated as a major signal of Tehran's willingness to meet the West half way. Of course, it may not be such a signal, but in any case, it is a statement that powerful factions of the Iranian political leadership will have great difficulty disowning and which serves the national interests of all Western societies.

Washington should applaud this statement and find a way to respond positively with substantive offers that are presented as building on this foundation laid by Iran's Supreme Leader. Great diplomacy seizes opportunities.

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