United States-Iran Talks to Begin on October 1

From: Agence Global <rights@agenceglobal.com>

by Robert Dreyfuss

The hawks, neoconservatives, and Israeli hardliners are squealing, but theUnited States and Iran are set to talk. The talks will begin October 1,among Iran and the P5 + 1 -- the permanent members of the UN SecurityCouncil and Germany.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic EnergyAgency (IAEA), was ebullient, even as he urged Iran to "engagesubstantively with the agency," saying, "Addressing the concerns of theinternational community about Iran's future intentions is primarily amatter of confidence-building, which can only be achieved throughdialogue. I therefore welcome the offer of the US to initiate a dialoguewith Iran, without preconditions and on the basis of mutual respect."

That's exactly the right tone and message, and it underscores thatPresident Obama is doing precisely what he campaigned on, namely, to opena dialogue with Iran. It's an effort that began with his comments on Iranduring his inaugural address, his videotaped Nowruz message to Iran lastwinter, a pair of quiet messages to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Leader,and Obama's careful and balanced response to the post-election crisis overthe summer. Once started, the talks aren't likely to have a swiftconclusion, but the very fact that they're taking place will make itimpossible for hawks to argue successfully either for harsh, "crippling"sanctions on Iran or for a military attack.

That didn't stop Bibi Netanyahu, for one, from trying. Speaking toIsrael's foreign affairs and defense committee today, the Israeli leadersaid: "I believe that now is the time to start harsh sanctions againstIran -- if not now then when? These harsh sanctions can be effective. Ibelieve that the international community can act effectively. The Iranianregime is weak, the Iranian people would not rally around the regime ifthey felt for the first time that there was a danger to their regime --and this would be a new situation."

Netanyahu's belief in sanctions, harsh measures, and regime change wasechoed by John Hannah, the former top aide to Vice-President Cheney, whowrote an op-ed criticizing Obama for taking regime change off the table indealing with Iran. Hannah utterly ignored the fact that eight years ofanti-Iran, pro-regime change bombast from the Bush-Cheney administrationdid nothing but strengthen Iran's hawks, while Obama's softer,dialogue-centered approach to Iran helped boost the power of thereformists and their allies in Iranian politics. Indeed, it was preciselyObama's less belligerent tone that confused the Iranian hardliners,emboldened the liberals, reformists and pragmatists in Iran, and thereforedid more to create the conditions for "regime change" than anything thatBush, Cheney, and Hannah did.

Hannah thinks that whatever happens in the talks, Obama had better becareful not to undermine the possibility that the regime might collapse."However engagement now unfolds, Obama should do nothing to undermine thishistoric opportunity."

Other, less temperate hawks have forthrightly condemned Iran's offer tonegotiate. The Weekly Standard ridiculed Iran's five-page statement onopening negotiations: "The Iranian response is a bad joke. It makes acomplete mockery of the situation."

And the churlish Washington Post, in an editorial written before theUnited States agreed to start talks with Iran, huffed that Iran's offer totalk was a "non-response" and complained that so far Obama has had noresults: "President Obama's offer of direct diplomacy evidently hasproduced no change in the stance taken by Iran during the George W. Bushadministration, when Tehran proposed discussing everything from stabilityin the Balkans to the development of Latin America with the United Statesand its allies -- but refused to consider even a temporary shutdown of itscentrifuges."

And the Post again brought up the importance of getting "tough" with Iranand pushing for sanctions, a la Netanyahu -- even though neither Russianor China will have anything to do with more sanctions. The Europeansdon't really want more sanctions either, though they say they do. AndVenezuela has offered to export whatever gasoline Iran needs if, in fact,the United States tries to impose a cut-off of refined petroleum productsimported by Iran.

We can only hope, now, that the United States and the rest of the P5 + 1will table an offer to Iran to allow Tehran to maintain its uraniumenrichment program, on its own soil, combined with a system of strongerinternational inspections. That's the end game: not regime change, not BigBad Wolf threats of military action, not Hillary Clinton-style "cripplingsanctions," not an Iran without uranium enrichment -- but an Iran that isushered into the age of peaceful use of nuclear energy, includingenrichment, in exchange for a comprehensive settlement.

Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and theauthor of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped UnleashFundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan).

Copyright © 2009 The Nation -- distributed by Agence Global  

Submitted by goudarz on Mon, 09/14/2009 - 4:49pm.