Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Appeasement is a wrong policy

Until a few weeks ago, the general assumption in Washington was that the new Obama administration would take its time before seeking direct talks with Iran. The idea was that the US should wait until after Iran's presidential election in June. The prospect of the United States trying to appease Iran would be used by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a vindication of his tough line and thus a boost to his chances of re-election.
However, at last week's Senate hearing, the new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that the Obama administration would not wait until after the Iranian presidential election. From Clinton's testimony it was clear that President Barack Obama wants to tackle the Iranian problem with utmost urgency.
With the exception of a few hardliners, the idea of appeasing the Islamic Republic through negotiations enjoys widespread support in the policymaking microcosm in Washington. This new wave of 'negotiationism', to coin a phrase, is based on a mixture of false assumptions and bad faith.
The first false assumption is that Iran launched its nuclear programme merely to gain a bargaining chip for future deals with the US and would switch it off once a process of reconciliation is in place. This was precisely the same assumption that the Europeans made in 2004 when President Mohammad Khatami ordered a suspension of uranium enrichment as a show of goodwill towards them. That decision was reversed by Ahmadinejad soon after he was sworn in, and uranium enrichment was resumed at a faster pace.
Since then, Ahmadinejad has elevated the nuclear programme to the level of a grand national strategy that would not be abandoned under any circumstances. There is a great deal of evidence that Ahmadinejad is no longer prepared even to consider the kind of concessions offered by Khatami.
- According to official estimates in Tehran, allocations for the nuclear programme have risen by almost 40 per cent.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that all of Iran's known nuclear sites remain in full operation.
- The IAEA also reports that it has no access to a number of other industrial sites in Iran that may well be linked to the nuclear programme. In other words, we know what we don't know but don't know what we don't know.
The negotiationists forget that the European Union trio of Britain, Germany and France, have been negotiating with the Islamic Republic on this issue for almost a decade. During his term as British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw visited Tehran more than any other capital outside Europe. Javier Solana, the EU's chief foreign policy official, has spent more time talking to envoys from Tehran than diplomats from any other nation. Tehran has also been engaged in negotiations with the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council plus Germany.
Not only do they ignore the history of negotiations with Tehran, the appeasers also refuse to state clearly what it is that should be negotiated. In other words, they put process in place of policy. Talking about what to do becomes a substitute for doing what needs to be done. Iran, of course, would love to talk to anybody for as long as it is not required to do anything it does not wish to do.
In the 1990s we termed the technique "the Shamir method" after the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir. Forced by the first Bush administration to enter peace talks with the Arabs, Shamir discovered one of the quirks of Western democracies: their pathological faith in negotiations. Western public opinion admires those who negotiate even though the process may lead to nothing tangible. Thus perceived, negotiations become a fascinating game both to play and to watch.
You would have to have talks about talks before proceeding to establish an agenda. Once this is done, you would still need weeks, if not months and years, of negotiating which item should be tackled in what order. At times, the negotiations break down. So, you will have to negotiate about resuming the process. To do that you would need a "road map", taking you from the point of breakdown to that of resumption. Needless to say you would need intermediaries, practising their talent at "shuttle diplomacy."
If things get out of control and you are forced to show something tangible, you might have to attach your initials to an interim agreement. This could be a long and vague document designed to obfuscate rather than clarify, a method of drowning the fish in water. To get cheers from the party of appeasement, you might have to make "goodwill gestures", a technique for dancing around the issue. The negotiationists do not say what it is that one should negotiate about with Ahmadinejad.
More than four years ago, the IAEA discovered that the Islamic Republic had been violating the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) for almost 18 years. Such a violation should have led to sanctions spelled out in the NPT itself. Instead, the IAEA decided to "negotiate" to prevent future violations. When those negotiations failed, the matter was taken to the UN Security Council which passed three resolutions demanding that Iran stop uranium enrichment.
The Islamic Republic has ignored those resolutions and repeatedly stated that it would never abide by them. In other words, Iran is ready to negotiate, provided the talks are about everything except the one thing that could be the object of credible negotiations.
The appeasers are indirectly calling on the UN Security Council to drop its one demand and enter into "unconditional negotiations" with the Islamic Republic. This means surrendering to Tehran, and may or may not be a good option.
Appeasers should shed their lexicon of obfuscation and admit that they are recommending unconditional surrender to Iran. Once they do that, they may have a stronger point. They would be able to say that, since the major democracies have no stomach for a fight with a "rogue regime", it is better to surrender to it in the hope that it moderates its temperament.
Amir Taheri is an Iranian writer, based in Europe
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