Permissible Arms

If we spend this much time parsing the announcement, how much time will we spend parsing the talks?

Posted in iran by Karaka on 15 September 2009

Stratfor has a very interesting take on opening talks with Iran, and I’ll venture to say one of the more unique ones. It certainly shouldn’t be discounted.

We are reminded of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis only in this sense: We get the sense that everyone is misreading everyone else. In the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Americans didn’t believe the Soviets would take the risks they did and the Soviets didn’t believe the Americans would react as they did. In this case, the Iranians believe the United States will play its old game and control the Israelis. Washington doesn’t really understand that Netanyahu may see this as the decisive moment. And the Russians believe Netanyahu will be controlled by an Obama afraid of an even broader conflict than he already has on his hands.

It brings together the three areas of international policy that the Obama administration has become embroiled in over the summer: Russia, Israel, and Iran. Framing this negotiation in a push-pull between the three seems quite cogent; I’m still thinking through the implications.

Relatedly, Middle East Report has some in-depth analysis of Ahmadinejad’s promotion of nuclear energy:

According to Kayhan Barzegar of Tehran’s Center for Strategic Research, Iran’s nuclear conduct had two important messages for the outside world. It suggested that Iranian leaders think strategically because they would not be browbeaten into relinquishing treaty rights at a time when the international community was highly sympathetic to international law-based arguments, due to the illegality of the US invasion of Iraq. And the fact that the leaders spoke with one voice across the well-known reformist-conservative spectrum indicated that Iran’s decision making was based on institutional interaction among the office of the supreme leader, the office of the president, the defense and intelligence apparatus, and, occasionally, the parliament. To be sure, a degree of difference in preferred diplomatic style was apparent in the Iranian press, with the hardliners more angrily defiant of international pressure. But hardliners, centrists and reformists generally adhered to the same sine qua non: Iran would not back down on its “right” to enrichment and it would use the nuclear program to improve the country’s regional standing. Such, not coincidentally, was the position of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his fellow opposition candidates during the 2009 presidential campaign.

This picks up on some of the things I talked about earlier, namely the concept of haq (rights) and how it is mixed up with the political nationalism in the public form of Ahmadinejad. In this international stage, it’s all about framing the discussion, and I think the Security Council Six (plus Germany) won’t make any actual progress without understanding that Iranians will refuse to give up this, that they view as a states-rights issue.

Whether the West likes it or not, there’s a lot at stake that will probably not get resolved. And even if Iran is no closer to a functioning nuclear programme than it was in 2002, the international public claim of having one, working towards one, clearly goes a long way towards establishing Iran’s legitimacy as an opposition to the West more pervasively than any other offensive move it could make. Something’s gotta give, and I’m not sure it’s going to be them doin’ the giving.


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