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).