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Former Senior U.S. Diplomats Propose Solution to Iran-American Conflict, Former Mossad Chief Says Toppling Syria Might End Iran Nuke Threat

Despite the beating drums of war on its news pages from David Sanger and others, the Times published an intelligent, pragmatic outline of a possible agreement between Iran and the U.S., written by two senior diplomats of past Republican administrations, Tom Pickering and Bill Luers.  Here’s the heart of it:

 …The United States would agree to full recognition and respect for the Islamic Republic, and Iran would agree to regional cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both sides would agree to address the full range of bilateral disputes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council could accept an Iranian civil nuclear program in return for Iran’s agreeing to grant inspectors full access to that program to assure that Iran did not build a nuclear weapon. Once international agencies had full access to Iran’s nuclear program, there could be a progressive reduction of the Security Council’s sanctions that are now in effect. Iran would agree to cease making threats against Israel, and the United States would agree to support efforts toward achieving a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

It would be important to make arrangements for Israel’s security; the exact shape of those measures would have to be worked out in the negotiations. An agreement in which there would be full access to Iran’s nuclear program, with a monitored limitation of 5 percent enrichment, would offer Israel additional reasons for confidence in the deal.

Both sides would agree to cooperate in reducing the influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan; in combating drug trafficking; and in keeping open the routes through which energy flows to the world from the Persian Gulf. Both sides would agree that while wide differences between the two nations remained, those differences must be resolved peacefully.

I’m not sure the 5% enrichment limitation is acceptable since it will hardly allow Iran to develop a civilian nuclear program.  But possibly no enrichment beyond 20% might work.  Also, the U.S. will have to promise to bring Israel into the NPT and to lobby intensively for a Middle East nuclear free zone.  Only the U.S. can compel Israel to do this.  Otherwise, it won’t happen.  Those are big stumbling blocks.

What the proposal doesn’t mention, and which could be a critical long-term component in any resolution, is solving the Israel-Palestine issue.  Even if the U.S. and Iran agree to a settlement between themselves, a festering Israel-Palestine conflict will maintain a high level of tension in the region.

The op-ed uses the example of Nixon and Mao’s rapprochement as a parallel to the current situation between Iran and the U.S.  But the former diplomats note this important distinction between the two eras and situations:

The China analogy for American-Iranian relations falls short in some areas. The most important is that Mao was ready for an American approach, while Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not. Instead, he is convinced that the United States will not work with Iran until his regime is gone.

For Iran’s leadership, the notion that the United States is bent on overthrowing its rulers is rooted in historical experience: the United States did overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, supported the Shah afterward, supported Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran in the 1980s, and now backs increasing efforts to weaken and isolate Iran.

Reducing the malign influence of this legacy on the thinking of Ayatollah Khamenei will be essential to achieving any deal. Simply “keeping the door open to diplomacy” will not be sufficient. So the Iranian leader must be approached directly, but discreetly, by someone he trusts who conveys assurances from President Obama that covert operations and public pressure have been demonstrably reduced. The interlocutor might be a leader from a country in the region, enlisted when the American president felt the time was right.

Ayatollah Khamenei will have to be convinced by actions, not just messages. Just as Nixon halted covert action in Tibet before approaching China, a similar signal will be needed with Iran.

There is no guarantee that diplomacy will succeed. But that is also true of war. And only diplomacy can offer Iran’s current rulers a stake in building a secure future without a nuclear bomb. Only diplomacy can achieve America’s major objectives while avoiding the mistakes committed in Iraq or Vietnam.

After so much blather and delusional thinking from so many U.S. (I especially “like” Niall Ferguson’s call for a new “Six Day War” against Iran which would involve “creative destruction,” which is turn is reminiscent of that other infamously delusional phrase crafted by Condi Rice during the 2006 Lebanon war, which she called the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”), and particularly Israeli politicians and analysts, it’s finally welcome to hear clear thinking and realism.  Though I am afraid that the conflict has gone beyond such pragmatic approaches.  I fear that both sides are on the road to war and nothing can stop it.  Though I hope I’m wrong.

Another issue that complicates the Pickering-Luers proposal is that the U.S. would essentially have to turn its back on Israeli hysteria about Iran.  It would have to drop its participation in the Israeli covert ops campaign against Iran.  It would have to firmly tell Israel the war scenario has come to the end of the road.  We will also have to demand that Israel join NPT and that it confront world pressure for a nuclear free Middle East.  Israel wouldn’t have to necessarily accede to this immediately.  But it will not be able to dawdle forever as it has regarding solving the Palestine issue.  I just don’t see Obama having either the will or the muscle to pull this off.  If it were Nixon and Kissinger–maybe.  Or Clinton–maybe.  But Obama? He doesn’t have it in him.  Again, may I be proven wrong.

In a somewhat related development, Efraim Halevy, the former Mossad chief touts a Pax Israelitus which envisions toppling the Syrian regime, icing Iran out, replacing Assad with a compliant, pro-western (i.e. pro-Israel) puppet.  Of course, he only says some of those things.  But he means all of them.  Halevy has a grand vision that foresees a new Syria cutting Iran’s arms lifeline leading to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.  This is turn will somehow force Iran to end its nuclear program and even topple the Ayatollahs.

Though I usually find Halevy eminently pragmatic, here he’s drunk the typical Israeli Koolaid, which usually involves elaborate fantasies of skullduggery and manipulation that turns the world from hostile to friendly to Israeli interests.  Returning to the Pickering-Luers thesis, there is only one way to create a stable Middle East.  That is negotiations among equals and with full consideration of the interests of all parties.

What Halevy is proposing is more of the same contrived realpolitik which has meant rivers of blood running for decades.  It’s also part of a neocon vision of western intervention to make the Middle East safe for Israel and our interests.  Other pro-Israel sources who’ve been touting this path are Michael Weiss in the pages of Foreign Policy and the Aipac affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  They spin a fantasy of hitching our wagon to the star of the Free Syrian Army, which, once it comes to power, will cast out Iran, make nice with Israel and turn off the spigot to Hezbollah.

Instead, all parties including Israel, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and others need to sit and figure out how to give each party something of what they want to satisfy its most critical needs.  For Syria, that will mean a new government that is independent and not dominated by the U.S., the west or Israel.  One hopes such an independent Syria will pursue a course that favors neither Iran nor Israel unduly, but approaches each for what it can offer Syria.

This sort of new Syrian government would focus on improving its domestic economy and improving people’s lives rather than dabbling in regional power politics as it does now with Iran and Lebanon.  In turn, this would mean Israel would have to reign in its own impulse to dabble in the double game of spycraft and covert war against its neighbors.  Territorial disputes would be resolved by Israel returning the Golan and Shebaa Farms to their rightful owners.  In turn, Syria and Lebanon would recognize Israel and normalize relations.  This of course would help sideline or defang Hezbollah.

But none of this can happen through Halevy’s machinations.  It can only happen by negotiations in good faith, something Israel clearly isn’t prepared to do (yet).

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • AA February 8, 2012, 12:36 AM

    Tom Pickering is a brilliant technocrat. His plan is starry-eyed naive fake diplomacy.

    Iran wants to tease and taunt. Israel wants to brag and rattle weapons. Obama wants to look like the tough guy.

    …and now along comes this wide-eyed fellow and says, ‘Come on, guys, can’t we all just get along?! Uh, yeah!

    The fearmongering is the objective, silly boy.

  • pabelmont February 8, 2012, 7:49 AM

    I love the idea that Iran would achieve the treasured goal of normalized relations with the USA (ho hum) at the cost of supporting the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan. What a deal! (And, as you mention, nothing there about Palestine). Dear Iran: abandon your friends and the USA will to a small extent remove itself from your list of enemies.

  • Denis February 8, 2012, 10:20 AM

    These pollyanna approaches are entertaining because they are examples of creative thinking, and, who knows?, they may be right. So what? All these guys are doing is stroking their own egos by showing the world they are clever enough to dream up creative solutions to difficult problems. Being right or creative or optimistic is irrelevant. This is not like dreaming up ways to cure cancer where you can go into the lab and test your ideas.

    Go back over the last 3000 years and tell me when was the last time Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Persians, Bedouins, et al. all sat down and discussed what is best for the Middle East and each of them agreed to give up something for the common weal. The only way to resolve conflicts between these squabbling people is for some external force like the Ottoman’s to sit on them and force them to get along with each other. Once they are forced to get along, some beautiful things can happen.

    @Richard: “Also, the U.S. will have to promise to bring Israel into the NPT and to lobby intensively for a Middle East nuclear free zone. Only the U.S. can compel Israel to do this. Otherwise, it won’t happen.”

    Regretfully, I could not disagree more. There is no conceivable threat or incentive by which the US could now force Israel into the NPT or to give up its nukes anymore than Kennedy could make good on his demand that Israel not acquire nukes. This will not happen in our lifetime anyway, and certainly not by Omama, who has turned out to be a total loser in this area.

    Why do I say this? Example: On Oct09.1973, having lost 500 tanks and 50 aircraft to the Egyptians, Meir threatened Nixon and Kissinger via Ambassador Simcha Dinitz that if the US didn’t jump in and help turn the tide, she would nuke Cairo. This nuke threat, whether stated or implied, based on Israel’s “existential prerogative at all costs” is referred to as the Samson Option.

    IOW, Israel doesn’t have to drop nukes to use them. They know that. But they’ve got no Samson Option if they’ve got no nukes. There is no conceivable circumstance under which Israel would give up its nukes or allow inspections. It is as much a rouge nuclear power as N. Korea.

    In the nuclear context, Moshe Dayan said “Israel must be like a mad dog — too dangerous to bother.” It is this attitude, which is stronger today than ever, that makes the pollyanna-thinking of Pickering and Luers entertaining but borderline delusional. I am sorry to say.

  • PersianAdvocate February 8, 2012, 4:56 PM

    Halevy’s is a confession, “We are willing to kill millions of innocent Iranians in a Persian Genocide to retain Israeli hegemony over all by way of FORCE”.

    Syria’s regime change will solve the Iranian “nuclear problem” indeed…

    • Richard Silverstein February 8, 2012, 6:13 PM

      To be clear, Halevy does not support war against Iran. He wants to contain Iran short of war. His methods of containment may be suspect, but he’s not one of the blood thirsty.

  • Michael Shepard February 8, 2012, 6:01 PM

    The comparison to China 1972 does not fit the situation. The Chinese knew that the US was in a geo strategic competition with USSR, and found entertaining the idea that it could be part of a triangle that scared Russia, and also got back tangible rewards from the US. China had a political ideology, but not a religious one; like the Vietnamese, except for a distaste for our colonial and murderous habits, the Chinese wanted to like us.

    China already had its nuclear weapons and a very formidable military. Mao got a lot more out of Nixon than Nixon got out of Mao, and Nixon knew it and accepted it. We just knew it was time to do business with the Chinese.

    Iran is in the middle of a struggle over the destiny of the region. There are religious differences, cultural differences that matter. Imagine if, in 1972, Nixon had suggested that he planned to put nuclear weapons in Taiwan, and allow Taiwan to dictate the rules of the Pacific. Israel is Iran’s Taiwan. And we all know that Nixon told Mao that Taiwan was out; he was going with the PRC. No US president is going to tell Israel that its status is going to be degraded because of the importance of Iran.

    Egypt was once in the position that Iran is now. It had a choice, and it chose the US plan, and it got 2 billion a year from that point on (1978) and it neutered itself as a regional player. Now, the regime is discredited, the country is utterly broke –except for the US contribution — and it has no influence in the region it once dominated. Who in Egypt would say that it made a good deal?

    So why would Iran humble itself, as Egypt did? To avoid getting hit by Israeli planes? You remember how many men they threw into battle with Saddam Hussein? Iran aint backing down.

    • Richard Silverstein February 8, 2012, 6:09 PM

      Terrific analysis, thanks.

  • Kalea February 8, 2012, 7:31 PM

    Nice dream. Remove (yet). Israel is what it is.

  • editorsteve February 8, 2012, 7:54 PM

    Minor point, but where did the idea that 20% enrichment is necessary for a civilian nuclear industry come from? Reactor fuel is generally only 3% U235. A few medical isotopes are so short-lived that they can most easily be made in quantity by decay from uranium or high-flux bombardment by uranium fission products — hence 20% enrichment need — but these things are maybe 0.01% of what a nuclear “industry” is all about. Even in the USA, there are few sites doing this, and materials are routinely flown 2000 miles or more for use, despite short half-lives. Most experiments use easier neutron sources, etc.

    Iran’s insistence that 20% enrichment is vital is one of the issues that make the UN/IAEA nervous about Iran’s nuclear program. To get 10 pounds of bomb-grade 90% enriched uranium, you need only start with less than 50 pounds pounds of 20% enriched stuff. You’d need to start with 3,000 pounds of natural uranium or 300 pounds of 3%-enriched reactor fuel.

  • Simone February 9, 2012, 1:38 PM

    Israel is not interested in “Hegemony” over the Middle East. That is a l i e, pure and simple. It was Iran which started threatened and is still threatening to wipe out Israel by using nuclear weapons.

    link to dailymail.co.uk

    • Richard Silverstein February 9, 2012, 1:55 PM

      British Tory tabloids are not my idea of credible sources when it comes to Iran or any other subject. As for hegemony, ever since Jabotinsky Israel has sought dominance in the region especially in its own sphere of influence. It has sought to dominate all the front line states and any other state that threatens it in any way. This is so elementary a concept as to be beyond dispute to anyone with eye’s in their head that aren’t blocked by smudged pro-Israel glasses.

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