HOPES RISE FOR PROGRESS ON TEHRAN TALKS
By James Blitz (London) and Najmeh Bozorgmehr (Tehran)
Financial Times (London)
July 6, 2008
Iran’s top security negotiator will this month meet Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, amid continuing hopes in Western capitals that Tehran will soon begin formal negotiations over its nuclear program.
As they studied Iran’s response to an international package of incentives offered to the regime if it suspends uranium enrichment, senior Western diplomats said Tehran’s answer was confusing.
They said its written response to the international community’s offer, in the form of a letter from foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki, was negative in tone and contained no indication that Iran would suspend uranium enrichment as the West demands.
The diplomats insisted that a telephone conversation on Friday between Mr. Solana and Saeed Jalili. Iran’s top security negotiator, had been positive. They said the call left open the possibility that the Iranians might soon enter into talks over their uranium enrichment program.
According to two senior diplomats, Mr. Jalili told Mr. Solana on Friday that he was prepared to meet him in the third week of July. Mr. Jalili was reported to have said that, at that meeting, Iran would explore the possibility of beginning negotiations over its nuclear program.
“All told, what we have is a confusing response, which suggests that the Iranians are holding an internal debate over what line to take,” said a senior Western diplomat.
A senior western diplomat in Tehran said the foreign minister’s letter did contain some positive elements. The letter, parts of which were read to the *Financial Times* by the diplomat, specified that Iran was “ready to start negotiations” to reach “a comprehensive co-operation agreement."
Comment & analysis
IRAN MUST GRASP THE WORLD'S OFFER
Financial Times (London)
July 6, 2008
Iran’s dispute with the international community over its nuclear program remains deadlocked. For the last two years, the world’s major powers have offered Iran a package of economic and political incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment program, a program which some Western powers believe is ultimately aimed at producing a nuclear bomb. But Iran’s position -- that it wants to go on with uranium enrichment and is interested only in producing civil nuclear energy -- remains unchanged.
Still, there are indications that the Iranian regime is thinking harder about the international offer. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator will this month meet Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, to try to break the stalemate. There is no guarantee that the meeting will end in success. But the Iranians have not yet given a definitive “No” to the West’s package.
This month’s meeting will come at a critical juncture in the years of negotiation between Iran and the West. Thus far, this stand-off has contained little drama. But there are growing fears in the West that Israel may decide to launch a military strike this autumn against Iran’s nuclear facilities. There are numerous reasons why Israel may be considering this. Israel thinks that Iran is far closer to getting a nuclear weapon than other Western powers believe. Israel fears too -- perhaps wrongly -- that if Barack Obama is elected U.S. president this November, it will lose U.S. political support in its struggle with Iran.
An Israeli attack on Iran would be disastrous for the region and the world. It could only delay, not halt, Iran’s uranium enrichment plan and give it far greater justification. It could drag the U.S. into a regional war and polarize the region for decades.
Such an attack must not happen. Instead, all sides must do everything to ensure that the diplomatic route is successful. Iran should begin to grasp the international community’s incentives package. This offer is generous, pledging a state-of-the-art civil nuclear program and significant economic rewards if Iran suspends uranium enrichment. At the same time, the U.S. must look at what it can do to bolster the negotiations with Iran, whether by opening up diplomatic negotiations with Tehran or extending further security guarantees.
For now, Iran is sending mixed signals which suggest its game plan is to delay, rather than resolve, the crisis. But there are also signs of a heated debate within the Iranian regime about the direction to take. The hope must be that the debate is won by those who want to start some serious talking.
Comment & analysis
BRITAIN MUST ACT TO PREVENT AN ATTACK ON IRAN
By Anatol Lieven
Financial Times (London)
July 6, 2008
All the evidence suggests that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites would be a disaster for the greater Middle East, for the world economy, and for Western security. It would not even benefit Israel, which is adequately protected by its own nuclear deterrent. On the contrary, by creating new links between Sunni and Shia extremism, it would worsen Israel’s long-term chances of survival. Finally, as last week’s remarks by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, indicated, an attack is strongly opposed by the U.S. military. They would bear the first brunt of Iranian reprisals, since the U.S. would rightly be held jointly responsible by Iran, and U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are far more open to Iranian-sponsored attack than is Israel itself.
The British government can stop this nonsense. All that it needs to do is make clear to the U.S. administration, initially in private but in public if necessary, that the consequence of an attack would be complete British military withdrawal, not only from Iraq but from Afghanistan as well.
Israel must have U.S. acquiescence to launch an attack since by far the easiest route for one lies over U.S.-controlled Iraq. By starting the withdrawal of most of the NATO forces from Afghanistan, British withdrawal would throw an immense new burden on the U.S. military, strip the Afghan operation of its international legitimacy, and almost certainly wreck it altogether.
For these reasons, this is not a step that, as a friend of Afghanistan, I would ever advocate, were it not for one blindingly obvious fact: that a U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Iran will in any case doom our enterprise in Afghanistan to irretrievable failure. From the moment that Israeli munitions fall on Iran, all hope of stabilizing Afghanistan on Western terms will be lost. From then on, every British soldier who dies in Afghanistan will die for nothing.
Or rather, they will die for nothing in terms of achievable policy objectives. They will die as British regular soldiers have always died, for pride of service and loyalty to comrades and to regiment, and for this they will deserve the highest honor. A British government that leaves them to die in a hopeless cause would, on the other hand, deserve no honor at all.
All this stems from the simple truth that Afghanistan is not an island and cannot be saved in isolation. To east and south it is bordered by Pakistan, whose government is deeply equivocal towards the Western military presence and the administration of President Hamid Karzai. The Pashtun population of Pakistan along the border is hostile to the Western military and provides not just safe havens for the Taliban but a considerable share of its manpower.
To the west, Afghanistan is bordered by Iran, its most important trading partner. In failing to enlist active Iranian help in Afghanistan, the West has already lost its best chance of success in developing that country. If Iran’s present watchful attitude becomes outright hostility and full Iranian support for the Taliban, then Western-backed Afghanistan will be surrounded on three sides by enemies, as Soviet Afghanistan was in the 1980s.
At present, according to informed Western sources, Iran’s strategy towards the Taliban has been to open lines of communication but provide only symbolic amounts of aid. After all, so hostile were relations between Taliban Afghanistan and Iran that the countries almost went to war in 1998, and Iran supported the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban after 9/11. Today, however, Iran has positioned itself so as to increase its help to the Taliban greatly if it is attacked by Israel and the U.S.
The Karzai administration is aware of all this, which is why all its leading elements are opposed to an attack on Iran and have done their utmost to improve relations with Tehran. This is also the strategy of the government of Iraq. If the U.S. not only sweeps aside these views but allows Israel to cross Iraqi airspace, it will have ripped away even the façade of Afghan and Iraqi national sovereignty.
The British establishment supports the “special relationship” in large part because it believes that closeness to Washington allows Britain to “punch above its weight” in the world. Much of this belief is mythical. The issue of an Israeli attack on Iran, however, is one where a British government really can have a decisive effect and has a categorical duty to do so.
--The writer is a professor at King’s College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.