to Iran by the United States that Washington is
willing to join ongoing talks between the EU-3 and
Tehran, provided that the Islamic Republic
first "verifiably" freeze its uranium-enrichment
efforts, smacks of brinkmanship.
since Iran renewed enrichment activities this
year, after voluntarily suspending them during
negotiations with the EU-3 (Britain, France and
Germany) over its nuclear program, Tehran has
consistently and vocally insisted that it would
not give up this right, as is its entitlement
under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to
which it is a signatory.
Washington offering to talk, while attaching the
enrichment proviso, can only be viewed as a
politically motivated gesture on the part of US
Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice, whose comments were
subsequently endorsed by President George W Bush.
Tehran certainly sees it this way.
"Halting enrichment definitely doesn't
meet Iran's interests," the official Islamic
Republic News Agency (IRNA) said in response to
Rice's offer. "Given the insistence by Iranian
authorities on continuing uranium enrichment,
Rice's comments can be considered a propaganda
And on Thursday, Iranian Foreign
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki shot back with his own
offer to the US. "We will not give up our nation's
natural right [to enrichment], we will not hold
talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over
mutual concerns. Iran supports fair talks without
Last month, a draft
resolution of the United Nations Security Council
called on Iran to halt all
uranium-enrichment-related activities and
threatened to take "additional steps" if
necessary. It gave the International Atomic Energy
Agency one more chance to seek Iran's compliance
with its, and the IAEA's, demands, pending the
possible implementation of sanctions.
the five veto-wielding members of the council,
Russia and China oppose imposing sanctions. These
five - the other three are the United States,
France and the United Kingdom - plus Germany were
due to meet in Vienna on Thursday to discuss a
"sweetener" package to induce Iran to stop its
This is the status
quo; all that the US offer does is muddy the
waters, perhaps with the aim of appearing to be
more receptive to talking to the mullahs, this
under some pressure from the EU-3.
Europeans, who for the past three years have acted
as Washington's surrogates in talks with Iran,
have also appealed with growing urgency - most
recently via last week's visit to Washington by
British Prime Minister Tony Blair - for the US to
join them at the table.
Iran and the
United States have had no formal diplomatic
relations since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, in
which militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran
and held 52 American hostages for 444 days. Since
then, the two countries also have had no formal
face-to-face talks, bilateral or multilateral.
Yet the US "offer" to talk now is couched
in bellicose and threatening language, and not too
subtly injects clearly unproven accusations that
Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program.
Said Rice, "The negative choice is for the
[Iranian] regime to maintain its current course,
pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the
international community and its international
obligations. If the regime does so, it will incur
only great cost. We and our European partners
agree that that path will lead to international
isolation, and progressively stronger political
and economic sanctions."
An opening for
talks Last month, in an unprecedented
18-page letter from President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
to Bush, the Iranian leader said his country was
ready to engage in direct talks with Washington on
a range of issues, including its nuclear program,
reports Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service (IPS) in
the US capital.
"Some kind of positive
response became almost obligatory, especially in
the context of Ahmadinejad's letter and other
reported feelers that Tehran has put out," said
Charles Kupchan, director of European Studies at
the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
In addition to trying to persuade
Washington to join the talks, the EU-3 have also
promoted a package that includes providing Iran
with light-water nuclear reactors, trade benefits
and other economic incentives, and discussion of a
"framework" to address Iran's security concerns.
The last component, however, is strongly
opposed by US hardliners, who are led by Vice
President Dick Cheney and favor a policy of regime
change in Iran.
One source on Wednesday
suggested that Bush administration hawks may have
gone along with Rice's offer in exchange for
European promises that Washington would not be
asked to provide security assurances as part of
any eventual negotiation.
answer to a reporter's question on Wednesday, Rice
stressed that "we have not been asked about
security assurances, and I don't expect that we
She also stated that the
administration was not taking its military options
off the table and stressed that Washington was not
interested, at least for now, either in bilateral
talks or in negotiations for a "grand bargain"
with Tehran that would address all of the key
issues that have divided the two countries.
Such diplomacy has been recently advocated
by a number of prominent Republicans, including
the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, Richard Lugar, and Richard Armitage,
who served as deputy secretary of state during
Bush's first term.
"We are not in a
position to talk about full diplomatic relations
with a state with which we have so many
fundamental differences," said Rice, who added,
however, that a successful resolution of the
nuclear question could "change the relationship
that it has with the United States [and] begin to
open the possibilities for cooperation".
The careful terms in which she couched the
new offer, as well as the precondition that she
imposed on it, made clear to observers in
Washington that the internal battle over Iran
policy between Bush administration hardliners and
the "realists" centered at the State Department
remains unresolved, even if the latter appear to
have scored an important victory.
that this is an issue over which a lot of blood
has been spilled in the corridors of power,"
Kupchan told IPS. "I would assume that what one
could call the State Department gang is prevailing
in this round of the fight, although it's not
"For the purists, even a stated
willingness to talk with the Tehran regime is hard
to swallow, whether conditional or not," he said.
Indeed, as European pressure on the US
administration to compromise increased over the
past weeks, hardline neo-conservatives, whose
influence in the administration runs chiefly
through Cheney's office, have been arguing that by
talking directly with Tehran, Washington would not
only fall into a "trap" designed to extract more
US concessions, but also would demoralize the
"opposition" in Iran by implicitly according
unprecedented recognition to the regime.