July 18, 2008

Finally, U.S., Iran diplomats will meet

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

Finally, U.S., Iran diplomats will meet
Opinion: Saturday meeting could be a turning point in nuclear debate

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC

In a surprising reversal of its longstanding policy towards Iran, the Bush administration has sent its No. 3 diplomat to Geneva for a weekend meeting with the top Iranian nuclear negotiator. Since the administration is on record as refusing to hold senior-level talks with the Islamic Republic unless certain conditions are met, one might ask what conditions the Iranians have agreed to for this meeting.

The fact that the Iranian representative at the upcoming meeting has the nuclear portfolio is significant. The bottom lines for the two countries have been quite clear. The U.S. has demanded that Iran stop its uranium enrichment efforts, efforts many believe are actually the first steps in the development of a nuclear weapon. For its part, Iran has stated that its right to enrich uranium is not negotiable, and has given no indications that it is willing to compromise on this stance — despite a host of sanctions and incentives.

What has changed? What has changed? It has been just a week since Iran launched a series of ballistic missile launches near the Straits of Hormuz and issued a string of verbal threats against both Israel and the United States. Now a representative of that government will sit down with a American representative. To the Iranians, this is a victory, a vindication of their strategy: Continue to enrich uranium, refuse to compromise on the issue, conduct military exercises and tests, threaten to close the oil flow from the Persian Gulf, and refuse to engage with the Europeans. Do these things long enough and the U.S. will eventually come to the table.

On Saturday, America is coming to the table.

Did U.S. set requirements?
What were the conditions demanded by the U.S. for this meeting? Did they demand any conditions? There does not appear to be any change in Iran’s position, so in the absence of any indications that there will be any progress on the key issue, why meet?

I say meet with the Iranians and explain to them that time is running out. After years of patient and what I consider half-hearted attempts at a diplomatic solution, the Europeans are finally growing weary of Iran’s refusal to address the nuclear issue seriously. The Israelis have already determined that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and that it presents an existential threat to the Jewish state. Vice President Dick Cheney has stated that the U.S. “will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

Most of the western world seems fairly united on this issue, but Tehran does not seem to get it. Up until now, the U.S. has been content to let the Europeans try the diplomatic route, to no avail. The Iranians have wanted to talk with the U.S. all along. Here’s their opportunity.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns is an accomplished diplomat - perhaps someone of his seniority and stature can convince the Iranians that this issue is not going away, that they cannot delay and obfuscate forever, that if this issue is not resolved diplomatically, it will be resolved “by other means.”

If the Europeans can’t solve it, and the Americans won’t solve it, the Israelis will try to solve it. The message to the Iranians should be pretty simple. Stop enriching uranium.