April 4, 2012

Diplomacy and the Iranian nuclear issue - ADDENDUM

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi (Esam Omran/Reuters)

A few days ago, I published an article, Diplomacy and the Iranian nuclear issue. In it, I accused the Iranians of playing a delaying game to buy time for their nuclear weapons program. I mentioned that the last round of talks ended when the two sides could not agree on a subject for the talks. The Iranians refused to agree that the talks were to be about their uranium enrichment program - the only reason for holding the talks.

This is typical for the Iranians, and a tactic that has served them well for years. It is only recently that Europe and the United States have begun getting serious about effective sanctions, and those are still months away.

Now, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has raised objections to the venue for the talks. They have been scheduled to be in Istanbul for quite some time, but less than ten days before the meetings, the Iranians now have an issue with convening the talks in Turkey.

It is understandable that the Iranians are upset with the Turks. Turkey is supporting the opposition in Syria, Iran's closest - and some would say, only - ally. Iran has formally requested Baghdad host the negotiations. Iraq, under the leadership of pro-Iranian Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, is drawing closer and closer to Tehran in its political, economic and even military relations. Not surprisingly, the Iraqi foreign minister (my friend Hoshyar Zebari) supports the Iranian proposal.

Now there will be a negotiation of where to negotiate. It reminds me of the Paris talks about Vietnam in the late 1960s - the parties spend an inordinate amount of time arguing over the shape of the table.

The talks will probably be held in Baghdad, but it remains to be seen what is actually on the agenda. Perhaps at last the Iranians will actually discuss their nuclear program, but I'm not betting on it. They will assert their right to enrich uranium (not in question), deny the existence of a weapons program (there is) and end the talks when the representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, the so-called "P5+1," demand further information on the program.

Meanwhile, the centrifuges continue to spin.