Can Ira­ni­ans com­pro­mise in Istanbul?

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News -

UN­TIL LAST week, it was not even clear where talks would hap­pen.

On Fri­day, the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil plus Ger­many (P5+1) will meet their Ira­nian coun­ter­parts in Istanbul, for a new round of ne­go­ti­a­tions over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme. There is no rea­son to be op­ti­mistic about the talks, de­spite the ini­tial mood expressed by Brus­sels and Washington. Iran re­fused to re­join talks for 14 months and played an elab­o­rate game of brinkman­ship over the lo­ca­tion of the talks un­til the last minute — even sug­gest­ing Bei­jing, Bagh­dad and Da­m­as­cus as pos­si­ble venues for the meet­ings.

It has ac­cepted that talks would oc­cur with­out pre­con­di­tions and its nu­clear pro­gramme would be the fo­cus of dis­cus­sion — a sign that Western cap­i­tals read as proof that the com­bined pres­sure of eco­nomic sanc­tions and diplo­matic iso­la­tion is work­ing.

But Iran may not nec­es­sar­ily be will­ing to com­pro­mise. Af­ter all, Tehran is mostly de­fi­ant — words of mod­er­a­tion be­ing expressed only by ex­iled fig­ures like for­mer nu­clear ne­go­tia­tor Seyed Hos­sein Mousa­vian and his pa­tron, for­mer pres­i­dent, Ak­bar Hashemi Raf­san­jani. Such ar­tic­u­la­tions of a pos­si­ble com­pro­mise voiced by Ira­nian op­po­si­tion fig­ures fall far short of the min­i­mum re­quired to build Western con­fi­dence af­ter so much de­cep­tion over the years by Iran.

There is also the pos­si­bil­ity that Iran’s nu­clear pro­gramme may be ad­vanc­ing much faster than pre­vi­ously as­sumed by Western in­tel­li­gence es­ti­mates. And there is the un­der­stand­able temp­ta­tion for Iran to ac­cel­er­ate its pace, in the light of three things: the grow­ing threat of an Is­raeli strike; the mount­ing weight of eco­nomic sanc­tions; and the ad­mo­ni­tion, voiced by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, that this round of ne­go­ti­a­tions may be Iran’s last chance to avert pre-emp­tive mil­i­tary ac­tion. Iran may con­clude that the regime would any­way suc­cumb un­der the pres­sure of one of these three threats and would only sur­vive if it pre-empted them by test­ing a nu­clear weapon be­fore an Is­raeli or Amer­i­can at­tack, or crip­pling sanc­tions were to un­der­mine the regime be­yond re­pair.

If so, then Iran may seek to use ne­go­ti­a­tions to buy time as it has done so many times be­fore. This is the rea­son why the United States de­ployed a sec­ond air­craft car­rier in the Per­sian Gulf only a few weeks af­ter despatch­ing ad­di­tional minesweep­ers to the area.

Iran has pulled back from the brink be­fore and its lead­ers may con­clude that this time, too, they need to make con­ces­sions to en­sure the regime’s sur­vival. But Western ne­go­tia­tors should not be too op­ti­mistic. Iran looks at the West and, po­lit­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily, it sees weak­ness all around. This fact, com­bined with the con­stant stream of Western voices de­nounc­ing a pos­si­ble mil­i­tary strike against Iran as a prospect worse than a nu­clear Iran, may ac­tu­ally per­suade Iran that it has noth­ing to fear and so can out­smart its en­e­mies. Emanuele Ot­tolenghi is a se­nior fel­low of the Foun­da­tion for De­fence of Democ­ra­cies and au­thor of ‘The Pas­daran: In­side Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards’ Corps’ (FDD Press, 2011)

Obama: warn­ing

PHO­TOS: AP

Ah­madine­jad: de­cep­tion

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