For some in the foreign policy establishment, the solution to all the problems of the world are as obvious as the noses on our faces. Worried about Iranian nukes? Just cut a deal with them allowing the ayatollahs to develop nuclear power for peace purposes like medical research while theoretically denying them the ability to build a weapon. And make it all happen with “confidence-building” measures that will break down the barriers of distrust. David Ignatius’ column in the Washington Post outlining the deal with Iran that he thinks will ultimately come from the negotiating process begun last weekend in Istanbul is just one of many voices proclaiming that an end to the confrontation with Tehran is already well-understood, and all we have to do is stop listening to the alarmists and let the danger pass.
If the claim the blueprint for an Iran deal is apparent seems familiar it is because it is strikingly similar to the arguments about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. There, too, we are informed the outline of an accord is already well-known, and all that remains to be done is to force the parties to sign on the dotted line. But as is the case with the Palestinians, the chattering classes’ confidence in the diplomatic process tells us more about their own lack of understanding of the other side in the negotiations than it does about the actual prospects for a deal. Just as the Palestinians have no real interest in peace with Israel, Iran’s nuclear ambitions will always trump the seemingly sensible solutions proposed to get them off the hook with the international community.
Ignatius gives a fair summary of what is thought to be the easy way out of the Iran tangle:
The mechanics of an eventual settlement are clear enough after Saturday’s first session in Istanbul: Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and to halt work at an underground facility near Qom built for higher enrichment. Iran would export its stockpile of highly enriched uranium for final processing to 20 percent, for use in medical isotopes.
But any agreement that recognizes, as the Iranians put it, their “right” to peaceful nuclear energy, leaves far too many loopholes for the regime to eventually change its mind and switch to a weapons program. Moreover, the West has been down the garden path with Iran several times in the last decade. Each time, a deal such as the one Ignatius mentions has been put forward and seemingly agreed upon only to be spiked by the Iranians. Their goal has always been to use negotiations to obfuscate the issues and delay the West while their nuclear scientists gain more time to reach their goal. While the tougher sanctions recently enacted in response to the possibility that Israel will act on its own to end this threat raise the stakes in the talks, the Iranians are approaching them in much the same way as in previous diplomatic encounters. Though the solution seems obvious to people like Ignatius and the Western diplomats who trooped to Istanbul and will go next month to Baghdad for the next round of talks, the Iranians have a completely different agenda.
The same problem pops up whenever the obvious solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is mooted. There again, smart people in the West tell us that a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem can be created with territorial swaps to allow Israel to keep most of its West Bank settlements. Like the proposed Iranian deal, that scheme also has its flaws (that a divided Jerusalem will be a recipe for future conflict is just the most obvious), but the main obstacle to its implementation is not Israeli reluctance but the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.
Just as the Palestinians refuse to do the sensible thing and make peace, the Iranians also have every incentive to give up their enriched uranium and thus end both international sanctions and the possibility of an attack on their facilities. But like the Palestinians, the Iranians may have other priorities than peace. They may regard their goal of a nuclear weapon as being more important and will use any “window of diplomacy” proposed by the West as a ploy to get what they want.
What may be really obvious here are not the blueprints for a deal but Iran’s strategy for fooling a gullible Western foreign policy establishment.