The limping Six-Power-Iranian talks have been so fogged over since they started in Geneva on Oct. 1 by misinformation, misdirection and obfuscation that engaging the Islamic Republic in diplomacy may prove to have deepened rather than lightening the world crisis surrounding its drive for a nuclear bomb.
While sustaining the momentum of this drive, Tehran has said “no” in all possible ways to every proposal it has received from the 5+1 Group (five permanent Security Council members plus Germany) – and especially the UN-brokered overseas uranium enrichment offer presented Iran two weeks ago in Vienna at a special meeting of US, Russian and French delegates.
Top Iranian officials state explicitly – almost on a daily basis – that they will brook no proposals which reduce their stocks of enriched uranium or interfere in their nuclear plans at large.
This rejection President Barack Obama and his strategic advisers refuse to hear. They are working their fingers to the bone to keep it dark by means of five maneuvers:
1. The Six-Power Group was persuaded to “interpret” Iran's reply as consent to transferring three-quarters of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment – and therefore to be hailed as a breakthrough. This was nowhere near Tehran's real position. Iran stands fast against exporting the quantities of enriched uranium needed for making a nuclear bomb, which is what the six powers sought, and only agreed to release insignificant quantities for the small research reactor manufacturing medical isotopes near Tehran.
No breakthrough here.
Blacking out Iran's transgressions, and its intransigence
2. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna never released the content of the ElBaradei document which was to have detailed this overseas enrichment plan. The thinking in Washington is that if the demands made upon Iran were not publicly stated, Tehran will find them easier to swallow and the world powers be placed in a more advantageous bargaining position.
But then, when this silence was taken to mean that the talks were stalled, all the parties rushed to unofficially leak word that the Iranian negotiator Ali Asghar Soltanieh had offered his government's acceptance of the plan, when he had done nothing of the kind. Not only did Tehran reject the main points of the ElBaradei document, but delivered its reply late, five days after the Oct. 23 deadline laid down by the UN agency.
3. Aside from judicious leaks, a complete blackout was clamped down on the Iranian reply. The IAEA director also stayed mum. Since it was largely negative, aside from the “concession” on its research reactor, the US administration had to call up some pretty strenuous verbal acrobatics to keep the diplomatic ball in the air. This task was assigned to secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who remarked Friday, Oct. 30: “We are working to determine exactly what they are willing to do, whether this was an initial response that is an end response or whether it's the beginning of getting to where we expect them to end up.”
4. Another blackout has kept the impressions gained by the IAEA inspectors of the newly-discovered enrichment plant near Qom Sunday, Oct. 25, from seeing the light of day. No one has even said whether the team got to make its second visit to the site on Tuesday. Tehran's consent to this visit was depicted as a major breakthrough in the engagement process embarked on with Iran – that is until after the event.
The total media blackout since makes one ponder.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources explain it by the inspectors' embarrassing finding that the Qom site could be nothing but a military-purpose nuclear plant. Making this public would bring the entire negotiating process with Iran tumbling down
In his first comment on the mission Thursday, Nov. 5, all the IAEA director would say was that there was “nothing there to worry about” since the site was only “a hole in a mountain.”.
Sarkozy furious at Obama's slight
5. Washington tried leaning hard on its close allies to align themselves behind its tactics, especially France and Israel, which tend to go out on a limb. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in particular, refuses to forgive President Obama, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Paris sources report, for instructing US representatives to the talks with Iran to cut France out of the proposed overseas enrichment deal – without notifying the Elysee Palace. This step leaves Russia as the only destination for the reprocessing of Iran's enriched uranium.
Obama did not only slight French national pride, but he is accused by Sarkozy of making a major concession to Iran because France's role in the deal was to treat the material after it was enriched in Russia to 19.75 percent grade and turn it into fuel rods usable only for medical research but unfit for weapons grading.
French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner is accordingly going around making scathing comments about US diplomatic efforts to disarm Iran.
On one occasion, he advised people not to be naive because the negotiating exercise with Iran had one aim only, which was to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear installations.
Tuesday, October 3, he took an independent stand against the American position by warning that the six world powers negotiating with Iran would not tolerate delaying tactics.
“If the Iranian response is to stall, as it seems to be, we will not accept this,” he told journalists in Paris.
Israel was more compliant.
The administration had seen and heard with growing alarm statements by Israeli cabinet members led by defense minister Ehud Barak, who said disparagingly that all the administration had achieved in its talks with Iran was an intermission of some months, during which Iran continues to enrich uranium.
Obama passed a pretty sharp message to prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, suggesting that remarks in this vein could call into question other fields of US-Israeli cooperation. One US official said bluntly to his Israeli colleagues: “Stop portraying us as stupid and naive folks who don't know what we're doing. We are working to a very specific plan, and we see exactly what the Iranians are doing. When the time comes to act we will do so, but without your prodding.”
Obama silenced Barak, but the rumbling continues
Netanyahu took the rebuke to heart. Friday, October 30, his first words to visiting US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell were: “I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for President Obama's continuing efforts to prevent Iran from reaching military nuclear capability.”
He went on to say: “I believe that the President's proposal in Geneva, according to which Iran will transfer its enriched uranium – or a good portion of it – outside it borders, is a positive first step. I support and appreciate the President's ongoing efforts to unite the international community in dealing with the challenge of Iran's efforts to become a militarily nuclear-capable state.”
Barak has kept silent. But behind closed doors, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Jerusalem sources, members of the IDF's high command and intelligence community are gloomy about the prospects of President Obama's policy and expect it to run out of steam before getting anywhere with Iran.
Reporting from Tehran, our sources confirm this prognosis. They say Obama's tactics have hardened the Islamic regime's position and enhanced its leaders' confident belief that they can come out laughing from any direct confrontation with his administration. They are already laughing at the way some US media portray Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a pragmatist who would like to come to terms with the West on the nuclear program but is held back by a challenge from an unexpected direction, such as opposition leaders.
Then, Tuesday, Nov. 3, spiritual leader Khamenei made these remarks:
“We do not want any negotiation, the result of which is pre-determined by the United States” and: “Giving the United States a veto over the nuclear talks would be like a sheep-and-wolf relationship which the late imam (Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) said that we 'do not want'” and, finally: “Whenever the U.S offers a smile, it hides a dagger in his back.”
Adding insult to injury, the ayatollah delivered those remarks in a widely-publicized speech celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1979 US embassy seizure by Iranian students who held its staff hostage for 444 days.