Diplomacy a Process, Not a One-Shot Deal

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Diplomacy a Process, Not a One-Shot Deal

Even as Iran reportedly responded negatively to a deal over its uranium enrichment program, a bipartisan and international consensus against it remains strong.  After years of division and uncertainty, for the first time there is clear international agreement that Iran must accept limits on its nuclear program.  American diplomatic leadership on this issue, absent for the past decade, has brought the world to the closest point it has been to beginning to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.  The ongoing negotiations are an essential step in this process. Even as the world is committed to a solution based on engagement, conservatives seek to push a tone and an approach that mirror the failures of the past.  For example, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton just reiterated his support for unilateral military action, and potential 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants “withering sanctions” even as the diplomatic process continues. This is despite the fact that Secretary Gates, while he was serving in the Bush administration, stated that “[a]nother war in the Middle East is the last thing we need.”  And while sanctions may indeed be necessary, they need to be done on a multilateral level with international consensus. Turning fragile diplomacy into crass political talking points will not bring Iran back from the brink of developing a dangerous nuclear capacity.While sanctions may indeed be necessary, they need to be done on a multilateral level with international consensus. Turning fragile diplomacy into crass political talking points will not bring Iran back from the brink of developing a dangerous nuclear capacity.

Already, the international community has signaled its resolve. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the prospective deal “a positive first step,” and leaders of the European Union said that it would “pave the way for advanced relations.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also stated that we need to “let this process play out.” The steady international pressure amidst continuing Iranian defiance underlines the delicate nature of current negotiations and diplomacy, and it is important to remember that international diplomacy is neither a quick nor clean process, as talks invariably have a tendency to proceed more like a roller coaster than a smooth ride. Yet as Secretary Clinton said, those at the negotiating table are “all united and showing resolve” against Iran.  It is clear that the sanctions that are on the table should only be advanced once this process plays out.

Iran reportedly rejects IAEA deal, yet situation remains unclear.  David Sanger of the New York Times reports, “Iran told the United Nations nuclear watchdog on Thursday that it would not accept a plan its negotiators agreed to last week to send its stockpile of uranium out of the country, according to diplomats in Europe and American officials briefed on Iran’s response… American officials said it was unclear whether Iran’s declaration to Dr. ElBaradei was its final position, or whether it was seeking to renegotiate the deal — a step the Americans said they would not take.” The Washington Post similarly reported that “Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. agency that the counteroffer, as structured, would not be acceptable to Russia, France and the United States — the other parties to the arrangement — and urged him to get more clarification from his government. Diplomats said they hope a formal, written answer from Iran will be delivered as early as Friday.”

However, the situation remains unclear.  State Department spokesman, Ian Kelley said at the press briefing, “we’re waiting for a clarification. We – for our part, we remain united with our Russian and French partners in support of the IAEA draft agreement. We think it’s a good agreement, and it’s a very balanced agreement that represents a confidence-building step for all parties. It satisfies a legitimate humanitarian need from Iran and creates an opportunity for all of us for further progress… we are in very close consultation with him that we need further clarification. And I think it’s also fair to say that we need to have a formal response from Iran. At this point, we’ve been given some details of it, but we’re still talking to the Iranians about it.”  The original timeline that Iran was given by the international community was December, and by that measure there are still two months remaining for Iran to come clean about its nuclear program.  [NY Times, 10/30/09. Washington Post, 10/30/09. Ian Kelly, 10/29/09]

Engagement has brought the international community closer than ever to a consensus on how to deal with Iran. During the Bush years, divisions between allies and the international community as a whole complicated efforts to mount an international response toward Iran. Today, thanks to the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts, all the key players are closer than ever to a common outlook on how to address the Iran problem.  Already, EU leaders issued a draft statement calling for Iran to stick to the terms of the of IAEA deal.  According to the Associated Press, “EU leaders expressed ‘grave concern over the development of Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran’s persistent failure to meet its international obligations,’ according to a draft statement circulating on the second day of a two-day EU summit in Brussels.”  AP reported that “[t]he statement urged Iran to agree to the U.N. atomic watchdog’s proposal for supplying nuclear fuel to Tehran’s research reactor, saying such an agreement ‘would contribute to building confidence.’” Even Israel expressed support for the process, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stating, “I think that the proposal the president made in Geneva, to have Iran withdraw its enriched uranium — a portion of it — outside Iran is a positive first step in that direction.”

This unity reflects the strong efforts made by the Obama administration to build consensus behind its nonproliferation efforts.  Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns testified to this, writing “The president’s patient diplomatic pressure on Iran is a more sophisticated strategy with a better chance of actually arresting Iran’s nuclear efforts. Because of it, the United States has significantly greater credibility to take advantage of Iran’s mendacity and to lead an international coalition toward comprehensive sanctions should talks fail.” As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently wrote for Foreign Policy, “That is why the United States has launched a major diplomatic effort to forge a renewed international consensus on nonproliferation that is based on the shared interest of meeting a common threat and on the requirement that all nations understand and abide by their rights and responsibilities.” Her piece echoed an earlier statement from the President, released just after the commencement of the first U.S. talks with Iran on October 1: “we have engaged in intensive bilateral and multilateral diplomacy with our P-5-plus-1 partners and with nations around the world,” with the result that “[t]he P-5-plus-1 is united and we have an international community that has reaffirmed its commitment to nonproliferation and disarmament. That’s why the Iranian government heard a clear and unified message from the international community in Geneva.” [AP, 10/30/09. Reuters, 10/30/09. Nick Burns, Boston Globe, 10/01/09. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 10/28/09. President Barack Obama, 10/01/09]

Conservatives misunderstand engagement: Negotiations are a strategy to assess Iran and get an answer. Conservative critics of the administration’s effort disregard engagement and advocate for reckless policies of heavy sanctions and even military action- arguing we should not even give diplomacy a chance.  In a speech before AIPAC last month Mitt Romney called for “withering sanctions” and “diplomatic isolation” for Iran.  Meanwhile, the never-confirmed Bush administration UN Ambassador John Bolton said that “The use of force is required to stop Iran’s ongoing nuclear program because the other options have failed, are failing, and will fail.”

Chester Crocker, a Reagan-era State Department official says that the administration’s critics misunderstand engagement.  He writes in the New York Times, “Let’s get a few things straight. Engagement in statecraft is not about sweet talk. Nor is it based on the illusion that our problems with rogue regimes can be solved if only we would talk to them. Engagement is not normalization, and its goal is not improved relations. It is not akin to détente, working for rapprochement, or appeasement… diplomatic engagement is proven to work — in the right circumstances.” Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns, who was the third ranking official in State Department for the Bush administration, also praised President Obama’s policy of engagement, and explained the strategy saying, “[Obama] is smart to proceed with negotiations as they will work to America’s advantage in this marathon chess match with Iran. The administration is fully aware that talks may fail because of the Iranian government’s aversion to compromise. But if the United States does not talk to Iran, it will never know whether a peaceful outcome was possible…The United States will be no worse off if talks fail. In fact, it will then have much greater credibility to argue for a tougher international sanctions against the regime because it would have gone the extra mile for peace.”  Burns also debunked Bolton’s arguments about a military strike, saying “[a]ir strikes would undoubtedly lead Iran to hit back asymmetrically against us in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider region, especially through its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas. This reminds us of Churchill’s maxim that, once a war starts, it is impossible to know how it will end.”  [Mitt Romney, 8/20/09. John Bolton, via NIAC.org, 10/28/09. Chester Crocker, NY Times, 9/14/09. Nick Burns, Boston Globe, 10/01/09. Nick Burns, World Politics Review, 9/4/09]

What We’re Reading

UN personnel have been sequestered in their housing until stronger security measures have been put into place, following the attack that killed 5 UN employees. Afghan election officials announced an increase in the number of voting centers for next week’s presidential runoff election, disregarding UN advice to open fewer sites to prevent the rampant fraud that characterized the first round of balloting.

The Pakistani Army’s offensive in South Waziristan has uncovered new evidence regarding logistics behind the 9/11 attacks. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the Pakistanis for their military and political commitment to dealing with extremism in the country.

61 Iraqi government officials were arrested over the recent bombings that killed 155 people in Central Baghdad.

A federal judge gives an Al Qaeda associate a reduced sentence for time served.

30Congressional lawmakers and several aides are being investigated by a Congressional ethics committee about issues including defense lobbying and corporate influence peddling.

A United Nations torture investigator was detained in Zimbabwe, then deported, in another move by President Robert Mugabe spurring the international community.

The State Department confirmed that a deal had been reached in the Honduras’ political crisis, allowing ousted President Manuel Zelaya to complete the rest of his term in office.

Aggressive tactics by Russian security forces in Chechnya, east of Ingushetia, is helping morph separatist rebels into radical Muslim insurgents that have spread across the region and are drawing support from various ethnic groups.

Saudi authorities are making additional preparations to deal with swine flu during the annual Muslim pilgrimage know as the Hajj.

The focus on AIDS prevention and treatment in developing nations sometimes comes at the expense of more easily treatable childhood diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia.

Lawmakers from South Korea and Japan want to write a regional history book with the help of China, to help reduce concerns that students are being indoctrinated with jingoistic nationalism at the expense of historical accuracy.

Commentary of the Day

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann analyze various reports studying drone strikes to see if empirical evidence supports the idea that drone strikes result in the kind of high numbers of civilian causalities that fan anti-Americanism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jim Wallis thinks we should continue focusing our security analysis on the amount of humanitarian aid and economic assistance that we should be delivering to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times both agree that Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan has been constructive, both in underscoring the urgency of defeating Islamic militant movements, in addition to broadening our relationship from merely a counterterrorism one.

The Los Angeles Times is relieved at the news of new legislation to help close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, but hopes the Obama administration will determine whether or not remaining detainees will be tried in federal courts or in military commissions.

Peter Mayle reflects on the previous decades when France began to adopt the American rituals of Halloween.

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