Iran Talks: Definition of Terms

I’ve “put this off”: for awhile, but it’s time: time to weigh the pros and cons of negotiation with Iran without preconditions. But before tackling this hefty matter, a clarification.

David Sanger’s “story in -Monday’s- Tuesday’s NYT”: floats a trial balloon, indicating that the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany – the hard core of the 5+1 group – are poised to shift ground on Iran strategy:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.

The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.

This overview subtly mischaracterizes the record. Suspension as a precondition for talks was a European policy before it was American. The Iran-E3 talks of 2003-2005 took place under conditions of “voluntary suspension.” What Iran’s “National”: “Nuclear”: “Technology”: “Day”: commemorates, in fact, is the reversal of suspension.

The distinctly American position on Iran was something else: a refusal to engage in direct negotiations on the nuclear issues. But this difference between the U.S. and the E-3 was dissolved in May 2006 when Secretary of State Rice announced that “the U.S. would participate”: in direct talks with Iran, once suspension is resumed. In other words, on the same terms as the Europeans. (In practice, this has meant “more than preliminary talks.” But that’s another story.)

What’s more, the UN Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend enrichment or reprocessing-related activities in five separate Resolutions. That’s apart from the question of negotiations, but the point is, we’re not talking about America Alone.

The Obama administration, it seems, has now led the E-3 away from this unified position, in favor of talks without preconditions. But this process — which started during the “Presidential campaign”: — hasn’t happened overnight or without difficulty, as indicated by the “occasional”: “report”:

OK, enough throat-clearing. Substance to follow.

Update: I should have mentioned that the “State Department”: and the “White House”: say that the position on Iran hasn’t changed… yet.

3 thoughts on “Iran Talks: Definition of Terms

  1. hass

    UN Security Council Resolutions demanding that Iran abandon enrichment (and lets not pretend “suspension” means anything else) are themselves illegal and ultra vires, and are nonbinding. The UNSC is bound by laws too and its authority has limits. It cannot legally demand that Iran give up a sovereign right and cannot legally demand that a country sign a treaty.

  2. hass

    PS: What does “would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspections” mean?

    IRan already has allowed more inspections than it is legally obliged to provide.


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