“Too Important to be Undercut by Meddling Politicians”

May 23, 2012

Reports of progress and “a good routine” emerged from the first day of international negotiations in Baghdad on Iran’s nuclear program. Top negotiators from Republican and Democratic administrations counseled measured optimism, describing the goal as “reshap[ing] the environment to make it easier for Iran to compromise” and noting that a deal will take time. It would be premature to announce success, particularly given Iran and the P5+1 negotiators’ long history. It is even more premature, and surprising, to see some in Washington take to the opinion pages to denounce efforts toward the negotiated solution that military and security leaders continue to call for.

Outlines of a deal emerge as parties exchange proposals, settle into “a good routine.”  As talks continued late into the first day of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 negotiators in Baghdad, Iran responded to the P5+1 proposal with its own “package comprising five points,” according to Reuters. The P5+1 proposal was previewed by Laura Rozen of al Monitor yesterday: “The proposed package is an updated version of a 2009 uranium fuel swap plan that takes into account Iran’s progress in enriching uranium, American and European diplomats said… the United States and its P5+1 partners will offer fuel for Tehran’s Research Reactor (TRR) plus safety upgrades to the plant, which is of 1960s vintage. Also potentially on the table: new research reactors that use lower level 3.5 percent enriched uranium, safety upgrades for Iran’s one functioning nuclear power plant at Bushehr and spare parts for its accident-plagued fleet of civilian airliners. In return, Iran must stop producing uranium enriched to 20 percent and halt activities at Fordow, an enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom. It is not clear whether Iran would also have to send out its stockpile of more than 100 kg of the fuel.”

This comes on the heels of reported progress in talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Reuters reports that, “The U.N. nuclear watchdog director said on Tuesday he expected to sign a deal with Iran soon to unblock an investigation into suspected work on atom bombs, potentially brightening prospects for big-power talks with Tehran to stop a drift toward conflict. Yukiya Amano was summarizing the outcome of rare talks he conducted in Tehran on Monday, two days before six powers meet Iran’s security council chief in Baghdad to test Iranian willingness to curb its nuclear program in a transparent way.” [Reuters, 5/23/12. al Monitor, 5/22/12. Reuters, 5/22/12]

Experienced, bipartisan negotiators welcome first steps, reaffirm talks as preferred approach, caution that road will be long. Yesterday Dennis Ross, a top Middle East negotiator in both Democratic and Republican Administrations, outlined his criteria for success:  “”I think the key here is you want to send a signal that we’re serious, but we’re not desperate for an agreement … we’re not pushing prematurely to try to produce an outcome before you’ve had a chance to have the kind of discussions that are credible enough to determine whether such an outcome is possible.” Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Colin Powell’s chief of staff in the George W. Bush State Department writes today, “Obviously, it is premature to conclude that a negotiated solution can be reached and it would be foolish to presume success. We have a history of deep distrust and animosity with Iran and very sound reasons for being suspicious. At the same time, our best professional advice says that not only do we have time to pursue that outcome and it represents our best bet for resolving the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program.”  Ambassadors William Luers and Thomas Pickering also warn against setting expectations too high for this week’s negotiations: “The talks with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) are formulaic, stagnant, and not likely to achieve any breakthrough on their own. The Iranians feel out-numbered by diverse participants with varying agendas. The US needs to reshape the environment to make it easier for Iran to compromise.” [Dennis Ross via Foreign Policy, 5/22/12. Lawrence Wilkerson, 5/23/12. William Luers and Thomas Pickering, 5/22/12]

“Meddling” by some  must not obscure bipartisan support for negotiated solution. Wilkerson writes: “Virtually all of America’s national security leaders, from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his predecessor Robert Gates, to Bush administration intelligence chief Gen. Michael Hayden, have stated that the idea of ending Iran’s nuclear program with military strikes is a fiction and that a negotiated solution, backed up by international pressure, represents our best strategy. But this hasn’t stopped some in Washington from acting on their predetermined notion that negotiations with Iran are fruitless. Sen. Graham, joined by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., has authored legislation that makes it more difficult for negotiations to succeed and more likely that America will be drawn into war. … Negotiations with Iran are simply too important to be undercut by meddling from politicians whose presumptions are not based on sound intelligence and whose political agendas make a positive outcome more difficult. Given the consequences and the American lives that are no doubt on the line, patient and determined negotiations should be given the chance to succeed.”

Even as those three Senators took the surprising step of criticizing the talks while they are ongoing, a bipartisan group of 70 Members of Congress wrote to President Obama in support of the need for a negotiated solution, stating, “we strongly believe that the United States must take full advantage of opportunities for diplomatic engagement, in concert with sanctions and other appropriate measures, to prevent a nuclear weapons-capable Iran,” agreeing with President Obama’s statement that, “the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.” [Lawrence Wilkerson, 5/23/12. Congressional Letter, 5/21/12]


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The Dominican Republic’s opposition leader has attacked the results of the recent election, claiming they were corrupt.

Commentary of the Day

John Kerry discusses the importance of the Law of the Sea treaty.

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