US belittles Iran's nuclear offer
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts - In the aftermath of nuclear talks between Iran and international powers in Almaty, the US media has been replete with Iran-bashing commentaries that place the blame for the stalled process squarely on Iran's shoulders. Relying on information and input from various "anonymous US officials," the mainstream media's coverage has essentially boiled down to the argument that Iranian negotiators in Almaty did not behave as if they were interested in reaching a deal and therefore missed a great chance
This stance has been adjoined with two complementary perspectives that have now acquired the status of self-evident
truths; namely, that Iran is "emboldened" by the North Korean aggressive behavior and is apt to be influenced by Pyongyang's defiance and, second, that Tehran's rulers should be presented with "credible military threats".
The latter is reflected in, among others, a new report by the "centrist" Washington think tank, the Atlantic Council. While it advocates people-to-people diplomacy between US and Iran, the report nonetheless replicates the stereotypical hawkish US line on Iran, so unattractive to civilized minds.
Little surprise, then, that a number of US editorials, including the Washington Post,  have credited Israel's "red line" for Iran's decision not to cross beyond the 20% enrichment level or pile up a large stockpile. Such an interpretation, that completely ignores the possibility that Iran may have done so based on its domestic needs and not external pressures, has but one logical conclusion: if the Israeli pressure tactic is working, why shouldn' the US imitate it by drawing a "red line" as well?
This is, of course, a clever way of selling the Israeli line to the American public, by depicting Iran as potentially another North Korea, irrespective of the vast differences and misleading analogies (see Almaty talks yield no deal, but build confidence, Asia Times Online, April 8, 2013), and, at the same time, belittling Iran's expressed willingness to stop the 20% uranium enrichment activities in exchange for the removal of major sanctions on Iran.
Concerning the latter, a March 8 editorial in Washington Post described Iran's negotiation strategy as unacceptable because Iran has presented "token offers" while trying to give up very little.
The problem with this interpretation is, however, twofold. First, there is nothing "token" about an offer that essentially puts to rest a lion's share of the proliferation concerns about Iran; 20% enrichment represents some two-thirds of the steps toward creating fuel for nuclear bombs, although other steps are necessary in order to assemble deliverable nukes. Therefore, an agreement that would suspend this level of enrichment and would put in place a verifiable low-enriched fuel cycle in Iran should be regarded as nothing short of a milestone.
Second, the deliberate misperception of Iran's offer as insignificant serves to justify the US's refusal to respond proportionally, by offering to lift the major unilateral sanctions on Iran. On the contrary, this calculated misperception plays a crucial role in perpetuating the belief in Western capitals that the suspension of 20% enrichment by Iran does not really deserve a lifting of the main sanctions - on Iran's financial and energy sectors - yet from a non-proliferation stand point that is exactly what is needed in order to end the Iran nuclear standoff.
The illogic of Western approach is now risking a major escalation of the nuclear crisis, in light of new Iran sanctions in the works in the US Congress that aim to limit Iran's access to foreign markets and set up an Iraqi-style oil for food program for Iran. In response, Tehran has opted to make the West more aware of the sunk costs of pseudo-negotiation tactics by accelerating the nuclear program, reflected in this week's announcements regarding the opening of two new uranium mines and advancing enrichment activities.
In other words, the two sides are not just "far apart", as described by European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, after the second Almaty talks between Iran and the so-called P5 +1 powers, the UN Security Council's permanent five members plus Germany. They are also drifting further apart, partly as a result of a clear under-appreciation of the significance of Iran's nuclear offer mentioned above. This is partly the result of a new Iranian determination to make Western nations realize that their refusal to trade sanctions for their expressed compromises will lead but to one direction: the intensification of the West's proliferation concerns about Iran.
Based on communication with a number of Tehran pundits, this author has no doubt that Tehran has arrived at a new conclusion about the nuclear talks: that the West is less moved by Iran's assurances of peaceful intentions and more by the signs that convey contrary motives.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For further biographical details, click here. Afrasiabi is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).
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