Pre-talk positioning

After some interesting moves over the past week, the positioning ahead of the 6-nation talks with Iran about its nuclear program is getting tedious.

The “P5+1” talks with Iran [or, as the Europeans prefer to call them, “P3+3”] countries — Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia, and the U.S. — will be held either on the 13th or the 14th, and apparently in Istanbul after all.

Whoever is responsible for the Twitter account of Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu sent out two Tweets this morning with a maximalist position that is a bit off-message, compared to the more nuanced positions that Israeli military and diplomatic sources have been explaining for days. Here are the two Tweets:

    [The PM of Israel] @IsraeliPM: Iran must stop all enrichment of uranium, both 20% and 3% and move all enriched material out of its territory – [1/2]
    [The PM of Israel] @IsraeliPM: It is possible to give Iran alternative material for peaceful purposes. It must also dismantle the illegal facility in Qom– [2/2]

The main Iranian concern, which has never been addressed in the negotiations over its nuclear program, is how it can believe, after thirty years of sanctions due to its Islamic Revolution that have only been increasingly tightened in recent years, it can ever have confidence that an external source of the enriched uranium it will need for its civilian nuclear energy program [and also for the Tehran Research Reactor that will produce domestically-needed medical isotopes to treat cancer, for example] will not be subject at some point to sanctions that will interrupt supplies of enriched uranium.

It is for this express reason that Iran says it has embarked on self-sufficiency for its nuclear program.

But, this concern has been consistently brushed aside, or addressed in the most minimal and condescending terms.

Iran’s behavior is regarded with suspicion in the West — and, importantly, by Israel, which is still contemplating possible military action to remove any Iranian nuclear capability that might be used to construct nuclear weapons.

Iran is suspected of trying to hide an intention to covertly develop of nuclear weapons.

An opinion piece in one Israeli newspaper suggested Sunday that it now appears, however, that Iran and Israel are indirectly negotiating… Amir Oren wrote in Haaretz that “Essentially, indirect negotiations are taking place between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the one hand, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the other. In the absence of a direct channel of dialogue (as far as is known, and perhaps not all is known), the Israeli side’s negotiator is U.S. President Barack Obama … All of this is happening on the eve of elections, with Obama preventing Israel from acting until the negotiations are exhausted”. This is posted here.

According to Oren’s analysis, there are, going into the talks, two weaknesses in the American opening position, as it is known from the media [see our post yesterday]: “First, no side can expect to take away from the negotiations all of the things it sought at the beginning … [and, the related point that] the Iranians will present their own demands”.

Meanwhile, media reports from Iran indicate what used to be called “defiance”: AFP reported that the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi [Davani], has said that Iran would continue to produce uranium enriched to 20% [this is for medical purposes, but it can be more quickly enriched to the much higher grade, over 90%, needed for use in nuclear weapons[. But, Abbasi said Iran would not produce “more than we need, because it is not in our benefit to produce it and keep it”. At one time, Iranian officials spoke hypothetically about producing 20% uranium not only for domestic medical use but also for export.

On the other hand, Haaretz has reported Abbasi’s remarks as hinting at a possible area of compromise: “Iran’s nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi told state TV late Sunday that Tehran could stop its production of 20 percent enriched uranium needed for a research reactor, and continue enriching uranium to lower levels for power generation. This could take place once Iran has stock piled enough of the 20 percent enriched uranium, Abbasi said”. This is reported here.

The same Haaretz article notes that “In two separate statements made on Sunday, Netanyahu and Barak presented what they described as ‘Israel’s position’ on dialogue between Iran and the six superpowers. However, the statements contained several contradictions on core issues”. [See our post yesterday for Barak’s, or the Ministry of Defense’s, views.]

Meahwhile, Iran’s politically-embattled President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [referred to as a “big mouth” or a “loud mouth” in the recent Gunther Grass poem about the present situation, which has earned him a formal and pre-announced ban on entry into Israel — allegedly because of his Nazi-related war-time military service, see here] has also contributed to the pre-talk positioning. Speaking on Sunday, Ahmadinejad reportedly said that: “Iran would continue on its nuclear path even if the whole world stands up to it, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported. Speaking at an event marking the country’s ‘Nuclear Technology Day’, Ahmadinejad said Iran would defend its dignity and not bow to enemy pressure, IRNA reported. He added that ‘enemies’ should not think assassinating nuclear scientists would block its nuclear progress”. This is reported here.

Hossein Mousavian — Iran’s former nuclear negotiator during a determinative period around 2003 — lost his position after Ahmadinejad was elected President in 2005, and was arrested in Iran in 2007 for his foreign contacts while abroad — has just written a piece for Foreign Affairs, published here, with his recommendations in the lead-up to the talks.

Mousavian — who is now living and teaching in the U.S. — writes that “despite what passes for debate in the international arena today”, what should happen at this juncture is that “Both capitals should also progressively reduce threat-making, hostile behavior, and punitive measures during engagement to prove that they seek a healthier relationship”.

In his piece, Mousavian gives an interesting account of past, failed, U.S.-Iranian contacts.

It would be reasonable to assume that Mousavian is being consulted from time to time, even if only informally, by members of the current U.S. administration.

He notes now that “It would be misguided for the United States to count on exploiting possible cleavages within the Iranian leadership. Iran’s prominent politicians have their differences — like those in all countries — but they will be united against foreign interference and aggression”.

About ten days earlier, Hossein Mosavian published an opinion piece in the Boston Globe, here, saying that the upcoming talks “provide the best opportunity to break the nine-year deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program. Going in, the P5+1 members need to know that war or coercion are not the only two options. A third, offered by President Obama, seeks to engage Tehran regarding its nuclear program. This could work – since 2003, Iran has been looking for a viable and durable solution to the diplomatic standoff”

But, Mousavian noted, “it is too late to demand that Iran suspend enrichment activities; it mastered enrichment technology and reached break-out capability in 2002 and continues to steadily improve its uranium enrichment capabilities”.

And, he concluded, “The nuclear issue is part of a broader dispute between Iran and the West. It is crucial for Washington and Tehran to begin a serious dialogue to resolve more than three decades of hostilities, mistrust, and tension, and usher in a new chapter in relations:.

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