The Iranian Bazaar Opens for Business: Preconditions for Diplomacy
Iran and six world powers are scheduled to meet in Istanbul on April 13 for a new round of talks on their nuclear controversy – or so we were told until this week by no less an authority than US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
At a news conference ending a GCC security meeting in Riyadh Sunday, April 1, Clinton announced:
“We were told that the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) viewed weapons of mass destruction as religiously prohibited, as against Islam,” she said. “We are meeting with the Iranians to discuss how to translate what is a stated belief into a plan of action.”
Just 24 hours later, Iran made it clear that it was not ready to translate its stated belief into action – or even diplomacy. Although it was Tehran’s idea to hold resumed negotiations on its nuclear program in Istanbul in mid-April, by Monday, the agreed plan was suddenly thrown to the winds by a series of preconditions, starting with the removal of the venue from Turkey.
The influential former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaie explained: “Given the fact that our friends in Turkey have failed to fulfill some of our agreements, the talks… had better be held in another friendly country.”
He did not say which agreements were not fulfilled – they may have been concluded under the table – but Turkey was clearly in bad odor in Tehran.
Open Iranian contempt for Erdogan
A major source of contention is the US radar deployed at the Kurecik air base in southeastern Turkey as part of the NATO missile shield.
(A separate article in this issue will discuss its relevance to the Obama administration’s policy.)
Erdogan assured Tehran that the system is no threat to Iran and that Ankara had insisted that the data collected by the radar station would not be shared with Israel. If this condition was not upheld, Turkey would ask NATO to dismantle the station within six months.
This assurance did not mollify Tehran, which was clearly bent on snubbing President Barack Obama’s personal choice as his senior broker just a week after the Turkish prime minister visited their country and met with Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Mashhad
He came in for open contempt from another high-ranking Iranian spokesman, Foreign Policy and National Security Commission member Esmaeel Kosari, who said: “Turkey serves as the United States and Israel’s messenger and mediator. The Turkish government will be hated by its citizens if it continues this role.”
Kosari spoke from Baku to investigate US reports that Azerbaijan had put air bases at the Israeli Air Force’s disposal for use in an attack on Iran.
Moscow: We need talks badly before the Mid East pot boils over
As for Russian-Iranian coordination, the two governments see eye to eye on Syria for now, but cracks are visible in other arenas. While disapproving strongly of US military tactics against Iran, Moscow at the same time reproved Iran over its tactics for stalling nuclear negotiations, the latest of which is to demand a change of venue from Istanbul.
Tuesday, April 3, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov emphasized that the Kremlin, unlike Iran, had a strong interest in diplomacy without delay.
After all, Russia is one of the six powers along with the US, Britain, France, China and Germany, to have agreed to the April date for nuclear negotiations.
Ryabkov started his comments with a threat: “The Middle East standoff could boil over into military action at any moment,” he said. Referring to the massing of military and naval forces in the Persian Gulf, he added: “The pot can explode if the diplomatic valve is not opened.”
The situation is so acute that any incidents are possible, the official explained. “This is especially dangerous when big military, naval capabilities are concentrated in the area. The risk of an accidental conflict breaking out cannot be ignored.”
“We find the situation very serious and tending to aggravate. All foot-dragging must stop. We need these talks badly,” he said. “We should consistently follow the road of restoring confidence between the sides and de-escalating the situation.”
Iran rejects diplomacy under threat and pressure
The “foot-dragging” denounced by the Russian official targets Iran’s preconditions for diplomacy.
Tehran is not prepared for its delegation to sit down for talks so long as it is under US, Western and Israeli diplomatic and military pressure.
The Iranians don’t buy the American-Israel contention that the broad Nobel Dina 12 US-Israeli-Greek naval and air exercise ongoing this week (See the first item in this issue.) is just a security drill for protecting the developing Mediterranean oil and gas fields.
They are disquieted by the sight of Israeli F-15 and F-16 bomber jets flying from their home bases to the US Iraklion Air Base on the Greek island of Crete and back, refueled in midair by American and Israeli jets. This exercise, say the Iranians, is designed to display the capability of Israeli warplanes to reach their nuclear facilities, bomb them and fly back to base without touching down on foreign soil en route.
The Iranians are also taking note of the fact that the Mediterranean exercise is led by the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier and strike force. As soon as it is over, the ship will head south through the Suez Canal. Once it is through to the Gulf of Aden, the Americans will have three aircraft carriers around Iran’s shores.
Tehran refuses to go into diplomacy so long as this threat hangs over its head.
Sanctions are hurting Russian-Iranian trade
Washington for its part wants Iran to suspend all its nuclear projects and discontinue any further development, including uranium enrichment (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 535 of March 25 first disclosed) for the duration of the talks.
In rejecting US-European sanctions and financial penalties, Moscow lined up with Tehran.
According to Ryabkov, saber-rattling and sanctions are equally futile and must be stopped. He warned that concessions cannot be wrung from the Iranian side by “a policy of threats, any more than with a policy of sanctions.”
He admitted that the sanctions were hurting the “legitimate development of trade and economic ties” between Russia and Iran and reported that Washington was planning new penalties against buyers of Iranian oil in violation of its embargo, in addition to the sanctions against persons and companies trading with Iran’s banks, including the CBI.
The new sanctions will affect foreign banks involved in oil trade with Iran, according to the Russian diplomat.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources say that Iran’s tactics are worth noting.
Publicly, official Tehran has no complaints and acts as though nothing is amiss. But its case is being carefully placed on the record by ex-officials and figures uninvolved in day-to-day government routines, as well as by sympathetic foreign powers – Russia in particular.
The Obama administration continues to act as though the nuclear talks will open on schedule on April 13 in Istanbul and Tehran will come to the table without preconditions.