On the eve of the meeting between representatives of the Great Powers and Iran on the issue of its nuclear program, there are rumors of another "last chance" for the diplomatic process. According to US sources, President Barack Obama is again offering a carrot in the hope that Iran will prefer a diplomatic settlement over the biting sanctions scheduled for the summer.
It will not be easy for Iran to accept the package being formulated, which includes the closing of the underground nuclear facility at Fordu, near Qom, halting the enrichment of uranium to 20%, and transferring abroad any uranium already enriched, in exchange for a nuclear program for research purposes under international supervision. The Iranians have already rejected the proposal out of hand, but, as is their practice, they have not slammed the door to talks.
For the US and the West, and for President Obama who is the midst of a presidential election campaign, there is a clear advantage in offering these proposals. If Iran agrees to accept something close to what the Americans are offering, it will be a great achievement. If it does not, there are some advantages here too.
First, solving the problem diplomatically - if this can actually help - is better than any other solution, especially the military option. Obama will present himself as the man who offered the Iranians a ladder to climb down from the tree that they are on. From his perspective at least, there is still time.
There is also the recognition that Iran is weak, vulnerable, and under pressure, and following the announcement of the sanctions that will come into effect in summer, and in view of the difficulties already existing, it may be inclined towards dialogue and concessions.
President Obama is committed to dialogue with Iran. That was his plank in the 2008 elections, and it is the process that he has tried to promote since taking office. His proposal also signals to his Republican rivals that, unlike them, he is promoting policies.
The proposal also sends an important signal to Iran's youths that the US is prepared to give diplomacy another chance and that it is offering Iran's leaders an exit with honor.
This is also an important message to the American people, who have no enthusiasm for another military adventure in the Middle East, that their President is really trying every other option.
It is also a message to the people urging the military option or the application of more pressure, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, to be patient in view of the new chance for dialogue.
Is this really the last chance?
Are the Iranian people ready for such a great change in policy? In the past, they were quick to reject both policies of the stick (pressure) and the carrot (dialogue and concessions). First, they said, the carrot and stick are for animals - rabbits and donkeys - but are not appropriate in relations with a cultured country like Iran. Second, they saw a poisoned carrot - not the result of honest intentions, but intended as bait for Iran's youths, to buy their hearts.
There is also the question: Is this really the last chance, as presented by the American administration? After the red lines drawn by the West were repeatedly rejected and became the most flexible red lines ever seen, the "last chance" might be another chance down the road. Iran can therefore reject the proposal in the hope that better ones may come along. It can also take the opportunity to exploit pointless talks to drag out time. If it wants honest dialogue, it can certainly ask for major improvements in the offer. It won't be easy.
In any event, Iran has already rushed to reject the proposal out of hand. The head of Iran's nuclear program, Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, has called it utterly illogical. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has demanded that the West stop trying to force its positions on Iran and called on it to respect Iran's wish to go nuclear, which he claims is solely for peaceful purposes. He is willing for negotiations and promises that Iran has practical proposals of its own that it will submit at the upcoming meeting.
The result could be a replay of the old scenario: Iran struggles to definitively say "yes" or "no", and its answers range from, "Yes, but…" to "No, maybe…", which returns everything to the starting point. It should not be forgotten that, in the past, when pushed into the corner, Iran agreed to proposals before subsequently retreating from them, or making statements later found to be completely baseless.
To succeed, it is necessary to ask clear questions, demand unequivocal answers, and set a clear timetable for implementation. To date, at least, Iran has done everything to evade these commitments. Only if the pressure on it increases, and offers are made which Iran can compromise on while keeping its honor, is there any chance for diplomacy. Meanwhile, the pressure on Iran is building and there are voices there calling for rethinking its policy, but it is not yet clear whether Iran is ready to accept difficult terms, such as the ones now made by the Obama administration. There may be need for a longer ladder.
Meanwhile, during the Passover recess, Israel's leaders are making their traditional fighting talk about all the fears that the Iranian threat puts on the agenda, while arguing among themselves about what additional restrictions should be imposed on Iran. It would better if, in view of the latest American steps, our leaders would hold their tongues and leave the arguing to the US and Iran.
The writer is President of the Academic Center of Law and Business in Ramat Gan and a researcher at the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 9, 2012
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