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Timing Right to Call Ahmadinejad's Nuclear Bluff

by ALI GHARIB in New York

26 Dec 2010 22:5818 Comments
AhmjadErdogan.jpgNew fuel-swap deal may be on offer during January talks.

[ opinion ] One would need to suspend disbelief altogether to be willing to take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at his word, but a solid case can be made that this is a moment when the United States should listen up and call his bluff.

Ahmadinejad, at the close of a regional economic summit in Turkey on Thursday, called the upcoming talks in Istanbul with the United States -- as part of the P5+1 -- a "historic opportunity." Reuters had the report: "We hope the Istanbul meeting becomes a good meeting with lasting results," Ahmadinejad declared at a news conference.

"It will be a very important meeting ... an historic opportunity to change (the policy of) confrontation to interaction and cooperation.... It will be in everybody's interest," he said.

Reuters noted that hopes are slight for a breakthrough at the upcoming meeting, but there have been hints -- as well as push-back from Congress -- of an emerging fuel swap deal similar to the one orchestrated by Turkey and Brazil in May.

That deal was promptly rejected by the United States in favor of U.N. Security Council sanctions. At the time, the United States had a perfectly good reason to swat aside the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) fuel-swap deal, as it was known. The TRR fuel pact was a confidence-building measure, but one that Iran hoped would forestall the sanctions that the United States had spent months of diplomatic efforts to put in place. This was a case of having to subvert one track -- engagement -- of the dual-track U.S. strategy toward Iran to reaffirm the other -- pressure.

But now those sanctions, and others -- are now in place. While the United States is imposing some additional sanctions with the European Union, nothing so broad is in the immediate offing. The latest moves don't mean the United States can't push for a new confidence-building measure, at the same time perhaps calling Ahmadinejad's bluff.

Such a deal would also throw a bone to Turkey, a fellow NATO member and rising power that maintains good relations with Iran, as well as Pakistan, positioning itself as a credible mediator between the Islamic Republic and the West. (Turkey's relations with Israel are also on the mend -- notwithstanding overwrought neoconservative objections -- suggesting the country's tilt to the East is not as complete as Middle East hawks portray it.

Plus, there's really not much for the United States to lose in striking a TRR-like pact -- if there is no fuel-swap deal to ship some of Iran's nuclear material off its soil, the Islamic Republic simply hangs onto its entire stockpile. Since the United States is imposing new sanctions ahead of the talks anyway, a deal can't be dismissed as a way to wriggle out of the latest round of pressure. That might be why the United States has demonstrated a degree of willingness to strike a temporary compromise. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said that some continued Iranian enrichment might be possible, a notion reiterated by Obama administration counter-proliferation czar Gary Samore.

Despite an off-the-cuff remark at a neoconservative conference on Iran suggesting that he takes a hawkish perspective on the Islamic Republic (speaking of throwing a bone), Samore said that "interim steps" might be possible in pursuit of an end to Iranian enrichment. Outside the conference hall, I asked him for clarification and he confirmed that he did mean "there can be incremental measures" that leave Iran enriching. An AIPAC official, Charles Perkins, standing nearby, asked Samore if a deal like the Brazil-Turkey one might be on the table, to which he responded unequivocally, "Yes."

If, in Istanbul next month, Iran balks at U.S. and P5+1 efforts to arrange a confidence-building fuel swap, the Islamic Republic's intransigence will be put on full display. If, on the other hand, Iran agrees to such a deal, little harm will be done to the West's longterm prospects of ending the nuclear standoff without drastic measures -- and Iran will turn over a sizable chunk of its nuclear material. If the United States and the rest of the P5+1 make the Iranians an offer they can't refuse, it could be a win-win situation.

John Limbert, a Naval Academy professor and distinguished former foreign service officer who was an Iranian hostage and later ran the Iran desk at Obama's State Department, is fond of saying, "They always zig when we zag." The inverse is also true and, at this moment, the United States seems to be the one doing the zigging. But a zigging line and a zagging line just might cross paths, and the Obama administration should take advantage if the opportunity arises in Istanbul. It may not work, but to do nothing, and to try nothing, is to passively slide down the path to confrontation.

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist who blogs daily on U.S.-Iran relations at LobeLog.com.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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18 Comments

What is this writer suggesting, anyway?

The 2010 Tehran Declaration was not a bluff of Ahmadinejad's, as this writer suggests.

Read the Wikileaks cables as well as Lula and Edrogen's response to the US rejection of the Tehran Declaration, and you cannot deny that this has been Obama's bluff, not Ahmadinejad's.

End to enrichment? Surely it is now apparent to the most thick-headed of anti-Iran narrators that this is not a credible expectation. And besides, look at the multiple polls of Iranians inside Iran. They support their country's nuclear program by an overwhelming majority.

So, Ali Gharib in New York, putting forward a perspective such as this can be considered anti-Iran.

Pirouz / December 27, 2010 8:58 AM

I think Pirouz is not fair in his comment on Ali Gharib. Anyone who read his reports and those of his colleagues on Lobelog, know they have been highly critical of the arguments used by those who try to make a case for war against Iran.

I think Ali Gharib is right in judging that the time is ripe for Teheran - and Obama’s government - to make a deal on the fuel swap of enriched uranium. I am quite sure there is nothing that the Neocons and the Israel lobbyists would hate more than being embarrassed by such a deal. They have set their hopes on convincing the public that Iran is the one who is intransigent and war in the end is inevitable. A deal between Iran and 5P + 1 would leave them without arguments to start a war, at least for the time being.
A fuel swap deal which would allow Iran to go on developing its nuclear energy and at the same give the West a reliable check on this development. That would create a win-win situation for both parties, and maybe the beginning of a first thaw in their relations.

polderman / December 27, 2010 10:07 PM

How many compromises has Iran put forward? How many counter-offers to the fuel swap deal?

All they got was a take-it-or-leave it diktat.

And then when they were able to work a deal with Brazil and Turkey, it was summarily dismissed. And the Wikileaks cables show that additional elements of economic warfare (sanctions) were in the works the whole time this "engagement" farce was being acted out.

I repeat, it's been Obama's bluff, not Ahmadinejad's.

Pirouz / December 28, 2010 3:42 AM

Like all his article, this article of Gharib is well written, totally real, and to the point. People like Pirooz who get their propaganda materials from Kayhan do not know what they are talking about. In Pirooz opinion, anyone who does not buy AN's shit and crimes is anti-Iran.

Vaez / December 28, 2010 5:22 AM

Vaez, I've never read an issue of Kayhan in my entire life.

Look at the references in my comments on this thread: Wikileaks, Erdogan, Lula and the statements consistently made by Iranian leaders of any importance to the effect that nuclear enrichment is a sovereign right.

Where is the propaganda, Vaez? The state department cables? Lula's public statements? Erdogan's public statements? Iran's leaders' pubic declarations? Where? You tell us.

Pirouz / December 28, 2010 8:14 AM

LobeBlog is a notorious den of Obama-apologists, in my opinion, as this absurd piece shows. No, there was no justification whatsoever for Obama's brutal decision to punch peace in the face when he turned his back on the Turkey-Brazil-Iran swap deal, and in fact, that deal worked precisely because Turkey and Brazil took Iran's concerns about the original (november 2009) swap deal seriously enough to work out solutions with Iran, PRECISELY what Obama - again brutally - REFUSED to do six months before.

epppie / December 28, 2010 9:29 AM

How is Ali Gharib different from any other war monger who writes for the corporate press?
Blaming the victim of constant US/Israel threats with lies and continuous threats of bombing.
Is Antiwar going over to the pro war side?

Tom Mauel / December 28, 2010 10:13 AM

Ali Gharib has the facts exactly backwards.
It is the US and Israel that are threatening Iran almost constantly with war and attempting to prevent them from their legal right to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes. Indeed Iran has not violated any of the requirements for inspections of their nuclear program. It is in fact the opposite. Israel openly has a stash of illegal nuclear weapons that they believe is their natural right.
The real question is just what is the editorial policy of Antiwar? Are they now endorsing the sanctions and relentless one sided US/Israel policy to strangle Iran and push them into a military confrontation?

Tom Mauel / December 28, 2010 10:39 AM

I think the writer misses the point of the west's approach to Iran. It has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, which Iran has said it does not want, and for which there is no evidence. It has everything to do with installing a pliant (and client) regime in Iran which will be subservient to the wests interests. The west covets Irans natural resources, resents it's independence, and the Americans in particular have not forgiven the Iranians for kicking them, and their representative the Shah, out.

The writer quotes a neo-con and an AIPAC official in his piece - does he really think that such sources are interested in a peaceful resolution which would allow Iran pursue an independent course?

The American (for which you can read neo-con and AIPAC) approach to the Muslim world has been one of aggression, with all the misery that has followed. The war against Iran has already begun, in the form of sanctions (supported of course by America's lap-dog, the European Union, and I'm remined here of Madeleine Albright's comment regarding the deaths of Iraqi children during the west's sanctioning of Iraq) and the upcoming meeting between Iran and the west is simply a P.R. exercise on behalf of the west to try and push Iran into a corner, and paint it as the aggressor.

Just think of all those weapons contracts the Americans would receive if Iran were within it's sphere of influence.

Trichet / December 28, 2010 1:45 PM

I agree with you Pirouz (for once) over the past, and was very disappointed in turning down the Turkey-Brazil deal as sanctions had clearly been building they took on a life of their own and had a momentum even those whom supported the deal could not quash.

Now, that taken care of, address the rest of the article, not just the headline. Whomever was doing the zigging or zagging, might this not be a good thing (as cynical as all parties involved may be)?

polderman made a good point of taking away another war hawk argument should this go through. You say AN was earnest before. If so, what's the harm in it going through if similar to the past proposal?

And as in other regards, WikiLeaks says what we already knew. And are all cables equal? I can think of quite a few you would disregard as propaganda in their own right. That being said, I agree with the point.

And now that sanctions are in place, this gives some cover from the neocons (some cover, they'll never run out of excuses to bomb something) to work out a deal, as the author suggested. Domestic politics have often been the sources of these zigs and zags from both countries.

Kurt / December 28, 2010 2:08 PM

This is not the question of timing but the question is that of Will.
Americans needs an enemy like India to befool their public but Indians are clever and the americans are innocent to crealte hatred around the world and their enemy is Islam, Muslims and Muslim countries at present are three Pakistan, Irak and Afghanistan but it will increase by the time.
I am sympathetic to american people they suffer due to their löeaders.

ghouri / December 28, 2010 2:24 PM

I am with Pirouz on this. Ali Gharib's outlook is very NYT, and he appears to accept the idea of US hegemony in the Middle East. Certainly the piece is anti-Iran and it is far from anti-interventionist. What gives the US the right to decide who enriches uranium in the Middle East or elsewhere? And of course the article is a million miles from raising the fact that it is the huge US military machine which drives smaller countries, once colonized by the West, to consider their own deterrent nukes.
I am disappointed that this article appears on AW.C.
jw

John V. Walsh / December 28, 2010 6:11 PM

I have a problem with the entire premise and context of this and other narratives.
The idea that Iran has to prove a negative is absurd to say the least.
The other idea that the west is concerned about Iran's nuclear program and Iran's intentions are also absurd and disingenious to say the least. Also to imply that the west speaks for the entire planet is a big lie and distortion. Western powers only represent a very thuggish elite and thats all. The fact that the west dominates the means of spreading fasilty under the cover of NEWS and journalism and freedom of the press doesn not negate the fact that the elites in the west are politically, economically, socially, culturally, morally and legally BANKRUPT.

Western powers: US, UK, France are all nuclear weapon states that have a bloody history of colonialism and imperialism. They have a history of threatening non-nuclear weapon states with nuclear weapons: TERRORISM.

The US has the honorary position of being a criminal state that has actually used nuclear weapons and is mighty proud of it: CRIMINAL CONDUCT.

To have these powers telling Iran not to do this or that and or prove this and that is a political, legal, moral and historical absurdity that can only be advocated by thugs and criminals and unfortunately we have people in the press that just regurgitate these nonsenses.

Mike / December 29, 2010 3:26 AM

The international feudal system is out to pacify the globe, in a measure to continue the New American Century, which so far has culminated in the new millennium of misery for all around.

Trouble is, in applying the proof of the pudding principle, it is obtained; the brain farts of those driving the US policies, have resulted in; bankruptcy of US, the implosion of the global banking sector, as well as leaving in its wake millions of dead people across the spectrum, and the immeasurable losses due to associated opportunity costs.

The crony promoting, “yes” men, seeking feudal lords, residing in a parallel world, and disconnected from actualities, verily believe their embedded media stenographers; sway public opinion (not that these opinions matter), and thereafter the “alternative media” falling into line go on to spouse the same lines, in a more nuanced manner, restricting the debate and discourse to the hot air emanating from the embedded media; reflections of the hot air currents in the other occupied territories namely the Capitol Hill.

However, considering the latest murder, and attempted murder of the Iranian nuclear scientists, as well as the abduction of the various others, somehow do not equate to signs of peaceful intentions of the proponents of the current shakedown diet put on Iran masquerading as sanctions (Iraq under the occupation of US, still is under sanctions), which are in fact the result of greed of the money junkies, whom have become hooked on “unusual returns”.

Furthermore, these money junkies reverting to type, and as in the case of any other addict; too busy looking for the next fix, never mind the consequences, are in a flap to keep the global energy sector from diversifying, as well as sparing no effort in continuation of the status quo, regardless of the inefficiencies, and inequalities entailed thereof.

Therefore to read the bilge here that is reiterating the poppycock promoted by the embedded media, about fuel swap, etc, without any regards to the conventions and spirit of NPT, which is currently headed by yet another “yes” man, complimenting the defunct UN headed by the “Ki” man, which is rapidly reverting to its original albatross type, namely the league of nations, all engaged in covering up the coercion of other nations, to denounce Iran, and stop trading with Iran, which as we all know is the free trade practices at its best!

Nonetheless to read; “calling the bluff” is somewhat comical if not tragic. However, fact that we the people do not want to play these sick games any longer, that is; write up, or reply, etc, somehow ought not mean that the feudal appointed “yes” men are correct in their assumptions. This simply put means; we know a con job when we see one.

A. N. 23 / December 29, 2010 4:43 AM

Ali Garib is either too ignorant or too dishonest to be writing such trash.

Where to begin?

Garib begins from the false assumption that the US demand is legitmate. It isn't and violates the NPT, which grants all signatories the inaliable right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

In fact, Garib subscribes to the imperliast notin that Iran is entitled to whatever it is the US is prepared to let them have, no more.

Secondly, Garib omits that Iran accepted the October 2009 offer, but that it was rejected by Washington, because Obama had already promised Netenyahu that he woudl deliver the sanction against Iran.

Garib is spouting pure propaganda when he claims that "Iran hoped would forestall the sanctions that the United States had spent months of diplomatic efforts to put in place." This was classic US diplomacy ie. our way or the highway with no room for negotiation.

When Iran accepted it, it caught Washington and it's allies by surprise. The French foreing monister went so far as to argue that it was a "distubing" development and along with the French and US, condemned Iran for accepting it.

Orwell, eat your heart out.

Garib them omits the fact that Obama turned to Turkey and Brazil to broker the 3rd party deal, but the powers that be in Washington won and Obama was forced to reject the deal when it was delivered.

Notice the lame excuse given by Washington - that Iran had accumiliated more low enriched uranium since Cotober and that the offer was therefore inadequte. Washington didn't even consider using the proposal as a new starting point for negotiations.

Please Frontline, if you're gopng to have anyone write on a topic, can you ensure they have some idea of the topic at hand. Garib clearly hasn't a clue, adn is merely recipcint garbage from David Sanger at teh NYT.

Shingo / December 29, 2010 9:09 AM

At the end of the day, everything must be done for Iran to avoid nuclear weapons and an illegal nuclear enrichment program. A regime that makes their decisions based on religious values cannot be trusted to be members of the civilized and modern world. A regime that does not adhere to the basic values of its own people cannot and will not be tolerated by the international community.

sisss / December 29, 2010 2:42 PM

sisss - Are you by any chance a member of the Stasi Secret Service. Is that why there are three SSS at the end of your name?

rezvan / December 30, 2010 2:30 AM

"At the end of the day, everything must be done for Iran to avoid nuclear weapons and an illegal nuclear enrichment program."

Please leave thsi discussion to the adults sisss. There is nothign illegal about Iran's nuclear enrichment program, which is their guaranteed right undert the NPT.

"A regime that makes their decisions based on religious values cannot be trusted to be members of the civilized and modern world."

You mean like asserting tha tnuclear weapons are incompatible with Islam? Yes, they clearly cannot be trusted.

"A regime that does not adhere to the basic values of its own people cannot and will not be tolerated by the international community."

What about regimes that do not adhere to the basic values of the international community and human rights, like say, Israel?

Shingo / December 30, 2010 7:06 AM