Iran Must Make a Move to Save Diplomacy
Iran should make a constructive offer now -- before the new negotiations resume. Iran needs to make a practical and positive move to support diplomacy and avert a possible war. The crescendo of drumbeats of war this week has been deafening. Israel and its hawkish American supporters have pounced on President Obama en masse to pressure him to agree to precipitous military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
I realize that any positive diplomatic gesture by Iran will be viewed gleefully as Iranian surrender to America as a result of presumed efficacy of the “crippling” sanctions imposed on Iran’s financial system and export of oil. But Iran has shown before that it is capable of innovative moves without the fear of losing face. It voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment for about two years when it was negotiating with the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany). An Iranian conciliatory offer now would put to shame those who view Iran as “messianic” and “irrational” and would also honor the ancient Iranian value of “pragmatic wisdom” (hekmat-e amaly).
In the face of rising sentiments for striking Iranian nuclear facilities, this is the most opportune time for Iran to prove by action the credibility of its longstanding claim that its nuclear program is for such peaceful purposes as producing electricity and providing medical treatment for many Iranian cancer and other patients.
That claim was recently articulated for the first time in the most unambiguous and solemn terms by the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In his meeting of February 22, 2012 with Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran, he stated categorically, “Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us. Moreover, from an ideological fiqhi (Islamic jurisprudential) perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them.”
On this basis, Iran should offer to suspend all activities for enriching uranium at the 20% level and allow monitoring and verifying by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. The offer must come before the start rather than during the negotiations because of relentless Israeli pressure on Obama. Israeli officials demand that Iran halt its uranium enrichment before resumption of negotiations, which the United States has rejected. Mr. Netanyahu does not want the P-5 plus1 nations (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, plus Germany) to even talk to Iran, a reminder of the George W. Bush policy. Alas, the voices of J Street and other temperate Jewish groups are in danger of being drowned out.
For their part, the P-5 plus 1 nations should provide Iran with 20% enriched uranium. This exchange would jump start the negotiations in regard to such thorny issues as the level of enriched uranium acceptable to both sides and the unhindered access of the IAEA inspectors to Iran’s nuclear sites at times of their choosing.
If Iran were to make this practical and positive move, President Obama should welcome it. Despite the clamor for military strikes, he should continue to emphasize diplomacy as an important American option. He failed to do so in his interview of March 2, 2012 with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic in which he spoke mainly of two options, sanctions and war, although he did mention diplomacy as an option in his speech to pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC on March 4.
Beyond the need to highlight the importance of negotiations, President Obama should be prepared to pledge that the United States will not seek to change the Iranian regime. Short of such a commitment, I believe, it is highly unlikely that the nuclear dispute with Iran can ever be settled permanently. The administration can follow the precedent of its recent pledge to North Korea: It promised not to try to overthrow the communist regime in return for its suspension of nuclear enrichment, among other offers.
In the case of Iran, the United States can follow its own precedent. The Algiers Accord of January 19, 1981 between the United States and Iran that settled the hostage crisis provided, “The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s affairs.” The United States can make a similar pledge for settling the nuclear dispute and perhaps pave the way towards normalizing relations with Iran after thirty-three years of mutual hostility. R.K. Ramazani is the Edward R. Stettinius Professor Emeritus of Government and Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia where he pioneered Iranian foreign policy studies in the United States. Copyright © 2012 R.K. Ramazani -- distributed by Agence Global