Thursday, March 08, 2012
After taking a couple of weeks studying yet another proposal from the EU and the Obama Administration to enter talks on Iran's illegal nuclear program, the mullahs decided they had nothing to lose and only time to gain, so they sent an offer to EU foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton, who promptly accepted it.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed the EU and President Obama's support for the new effort.
"This talk is good talk and shows an exit from illusion," AFP reported Khamenei as saying. However, Khamenei also made it plain that Iran was not going to give up it's nuclear program and that the sanctions would not budge him.
"The US president continued saying that he wants to make the Iranian people kneel through sanctions, this part of this speech shows the continuation of illusion in this issue," he said.
Of course, the actual target of this latest offer of diplomacy is Israel, not Iran. For the countries Lady Ashton the main point is that while these negotiations are ongoing, Israel is highly unlikely to make a preemptive strike to take out an Iranian nuclear program that represents an existential threat.
In President Obama's case, the idea is simply to tie Israel hands until after the election. The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv reported today that President Obama attempted to bribe Israeli PM Netanyahu with a gift of advanced weaponry including the latest in bunker-busting bombs and more tanker refueling planes provided he agreed to pledge not to strike Iran until 2013.
This has advantages for President Obama. It assures him of a 'wag the dog' option to strike Iran himself come October if he's not doing well in the polls, and it ties Israel's hands until it's likely to be too late to do anything. Fortunately, Netanyahu reportedly just reiterated that Israel would retain freedom of action.
The talks themselves are in the 'talks about talks' stage. Following the usual pattern with Iran, they will delay things as much as possible, throwing an inconsequential bone at the West to keep things going. For instance, one thing Iran has apparently agreed to is to allow IAEA inspectors to look at Iran's Parchin military base outside Tehran, where the IAEA and outside observers have long suspected that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
While talks about talks are going on, the IAEA has noticed a flurry of suspicious activity around Parchin...the Iranians are busily purging the site of anything they don't want the IAEA to see and cleaning up nuclear waste!
Israeli officials have been pretty blunt about their their skepticism over this latest diplomatic circus. Shabtai Shavit, a former director of the Mossad, was quoted as saying yesterday in an interview with Israel Radio:
In the past, every time the Iranians agreed to talk, the reason for their agreeing was in order to buy time in order to advance the development of their nuclear program. They didn’t invent this ruse, they learned it from the North Koreans.
And PM Benyamin Netanyahu, being interviewed on FOX essentially echoed these comments, albeit in far more diplomatic fashion:
It's the height of naïvete to the Iranians have anything else in mind besides stalling as long as possible to get closer to an operable nuclear weapon.
There's something absolutely creepy as well in the West's willingness to go along with the charade, especially with Israel, who has the most to lose directly closed out of the loop.It recalls the 1938 Munich Agreement on the edge of WWII, when the Czechs were locked out of the room and forbidden to participate while Czechoslovakia's western 'allies' and the Nazis negotiated on the fate of their small country.
However, there is a bright spot amidst all this.
This new round of talks is going to show exactly how futile the 'window of diplomacy' really is. The threats of an oil embargo and tighter sanctions have already been put on the table, and when the Iranians play the West for fools again, as they almost certainly will, there is a lot less leeway than there was before, simply because Israel is not Czechoslovakia nor is it willing to be, and there is a limit to how long the Israelis will allow the usual dance to continue. This time, when things get bogged down, it's going to be game over and the failure will show that those of us who said sactions and diplomacy were useless in this case were right all along. Any further delays will be seen as simply an excuse to avoid confronting the Iranian threat.
When the Iranians return to the old pattern - stalling its Western dupes for a few more months and then using another gambit to keep things going just when it appears the talks have fallen apart - they may surprised to find that the Israelis are likely to jump on the next failure of diplomacy to justify a preemptive strike. And given President Obama's rhetoric about not allowing a nuclear Iran, there's not going to be much he can say, especially with an election going on.
Iran invented the game of chess. But this time, they may very well have opened up an avenue for themselves to be checkmated once and for all.