Iran’s rope a dope
Every year around this time, the European Union stages a session of talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Will the exercise now suddenly produce results?
The ritual started in 1982, when then-Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany coined the phrase “critical dialogue.” Initially, the talks aimed at changing Iran’s behavior on human rights and exporting terror.
Genscher achieved nothing, but his “critical dialogue” found other champions in France and Britain. In 2006, the exercise grew to include the United States, Russia and China.
Under President Obama, a sucker for multilateralism, the agenda was compressed into a single issue: persuading Iran to accept a temporary freeze of uranium enrichment. The exercise was subcontracted to the European Union, with Catherine Ashton — who is referred to as the EU’s foreign-policy representative, without having any powers corresponding to the title — in charge. Last week, she announced she’d received a letter from Tehran accepting another round of talks.
The process suits Iran fine. It gives “hostile powers” something to chew on while Iran does what it wants. It also enables US and European leaders to tell their respective publics that they are “doing something” about the threat that Iran poses. And it helps Russia and China to claim that, because diplomacy is working, there is no need for tougher action. The blame-America-first chorus also uses the process to bash “neocons” who argue that the mullahs won’t stop unless someone else stops them.
But this year things are different. Tehran has declared at the outset that the nuclear issue — the only one that interests the 5+1 group (America, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China) — shouldn’t even be on the agenda.
“The Islamic Republic has already become a member of the nuclear club,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared last week, as he unveiled the first nuclear-fuel rod manufactured in Iran. “Our nuclear program is not a subject for negotiations.”
To highlight its defiant stance, Iran has announced it will stop oil exports to the European Union and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to interrupt the flow of Arab oil, too.
Yesterday, for the second time since 1976, an Iranian naval group crossed the Suez Canal — on its way to Syria to bolster beleagured President Bashar al-Assad.
So what is Ashton to talk about when she meets Tehran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili?
(The issue of whether they could start with a handshake was sorted out years ago, when Jalili refused because Ashton is a woman and thus “unclean.”)
Jalili says he has lots to talk about. In a letter to Ashton, he suggests an agenda to discuss “a package of measures”: eradicating world poverty, ending “domination by the American Great Satan” and, generally, improving the future of mankind.
To Tehran, talks with the 5+1 are nothing but a maneuver to buy time.
According to the Tehran daily Kayhan, published by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, diplomatic moves don’t alter the regime’s strategic goals. In an editorial yesterday, Kayhan recalled that the Khomeinist movement’s “fixed strategic goal” is regime change in the United States.
The editorial said: “Our late Imam [Khomeini] openly spoke of raising the flag of Islam on top of the palaces of arrogant power, notably the White House . . . as the goal and purpose of the Islamic Revolution.”
More: “We have presented the Jerusalem-occupying regime [Israel] as a cancerous tumor that has to be wiped from the world’s political map. We have intervened to support Hezbollah and Hamas in their respective wars against Israel.”
It concludes: “The final goal, the fixed strategy of Islamic Iran, is the destruction of the capitalist system.”
Despite all that, some Western “experts” are once again starry eyed about the prospects of this year’s talks with Tehran.
We shall soon see whether this year’s vintage is different from those of the last 30 years.
Don’t hold your breath.