Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thirty years of talking with Iran

One of the standard claims of President Obama is that he will be changing our policy towards Iran by being willing to negotiate with the Iranian government. Michael Ledeen explodes that mythology by detailing how American presidents since Jimmy Carter have carried on negotiations with Iran. We have been doing that since the Iranian Revolution and it has gotten us...squat. Even George W. Bush's administration talked to the Iranians.
Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Iran and the West."

At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran's National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

Negotiations have always been accompanied by sanctions. But neither has produced any change in Iranian behavior.
Tough sanctions will only work with the support of Russia and China. If they haven't been willing to go along previously, is Obama's golden presence in the White House really going to change their minds from their own particular nationalists interests?

That's why President Sarkozy is so irritated with President Obama. Think of it - the French president is taking a harder line than the American president. The French have revealed that the timing of revealing our knowledge of the second Iranian nuclear facility was delayed so Obama could make a pretty splash in his United Nations speech.
Both countries wanted to confront Iran a day earlier at the United Nations. Mr. Obama was, after all, chairing a Security Council session devoted to nonproliferation. The latest evidence of Iran's illegal moves toward acquiring a nuclear weapon was in hand. With the world's leaders gathered in New York, the timing and venue would be a dramatic way to rally international opinion.

President Sarkozy in particular pushed hard. He had been "frustrated" for months about Mr. Obama's reluctance to confront Iran, a senior French government official told us, and saw an opportunity to change momentum. But the Administration told the French that it didn't want to "spoil the image of success" for Mr. Obama's debut at the U.N. and his homily calling for a world without nuclear weapons, according to the Paris daily Le Monde. So the Iran bombshell was pushed back a day to Pittsburgh, where the G-20 were meeting to discuss economic policy.

Le Monde's diplomatic correspondent, Natalie Nougayr├Ęde, reports that a draft of Mr. Sarkozy's speech to the Security Council Thursday included a section on Iran's latest deception. Forced to scrap that bit, the French President let his frustration show with undiplomatic gusto in his formal remarks, laying into what he called the "dream" of disarmament. The address takes on added meaning now that we know the backroom discussions.

"We are right to talk about the future," Mr. Sarkozy said, referring to the U.S. resolution on strengthening arms control treaties. "But the present comes before the future, and the present includes two major nuclear crises," i.e., Iran and North Korea. "We live in the real world, not in a virtual one." No prize for guessing into which world the Frenchman puts Mr. Obama.

"We say that we must reduce," he went on. "President Obama himself has said that he dreams of a world without nuclear weapons. Before our very eyes, two countries are doing exactly the opposite at this very moment. Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council Resolutions

"I support America's 'extended hand.' But what have these proposals for dialogue produced for the international community? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges. And last but not least, it has resulted in a statement by Iranian leaders calling for wiping off the map a Member of the United Nations. What are we to do? What conclusions are we to draw? At a certain moment hard facts will force us to make decisions."
Sarkozy gets it. But Obama prefers his illusions. And Iran continues on his dangerous path.

If thirty years of negotiations have achieved nothing while Iran pursued its own goals, what will be different now that they're on the verge of achieving their long-desired goal of attaining nuclear weapons? It is mere wishful thinking to believe that anything will change now. But diplomacy by wishful thinking has long been a staple of foreign policy, rarely more so than today.