Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is the negotiation with Iran working?

Don't look now, but there is a pretty good chance that increasingly severe economic sanctions on Iran are actually doing a good job of moving that country into a workable negotiation on their nuclear program.  

It looks like a big moment came when Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei swore not to commit the "grave sin" of building a nuclear weapon.  I took that at the time as normal stalling tactics to give them time to finish the job, but David Ignatius of the Washington Post points out that both sides are finding ways to create face saving moves to avoid confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, with Iran forgoing the building of nuclear weapons.

The key to negotiations is how the moves are framed.  

Iran can perform "confidence-building" measures to demonstrate how serious a moral issue it is to Khamenei not to build nukes.  These measures require "reciprocity" from the West.  If this step by step negotiating process can proceed quietly a deal may really end up happening.

"Confidence building" by Iran would be to ship Iran's low-enriched uranium abroad and receive back 20% enriched fuel, for "isotopes" for "medical research."  In addition, Iran would stop working on their underground enrichment facility near Qom, which would no longer be needed.  This would be acceptable, one hopes, to Khamenei as long as the West accepts Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy.  Viola, Iran backs down but saves face under the umbrella of Khamenei's moral declaration that nukes are a "grave sin."

"Reciprocity" by the West would be to accept Iran's right to nuclear power and an easing of the sanctions.  The key date is apparently the beginning of July when the U.S. and Europe's sanctions are to take full effect.

Another key to this seems to be that the U.N. Security Council, meaning China and Russia, has "signaled" that Iran's nuclear program aimed toward building nuclear weapons is too dangerous.

I think that Obama's foreign policy, aided by the apparently very skilled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is working pretty well around the world.  And keeping Iran from building nukes, and keeping Israel from attacking Iran, is a huge accomplishment, and is best achieved at the levels of diplomacy and statesmanship rather than grandiose and bellicose showmanship wanted by some.

It's worth a prayer or two that they, no ... that we, succeed.