Monday, February 20, 2012

Iran’s theater of the absurd

Iran’s theater of the absurd

Boaz Bismuth

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton appeared enthusiastic on Sunday. The two women who lead Western foreign policy welcomed Iran’s willingness to resume talks with world powers, after they failed last year in Istanbul. The pair said the answer they received from Tehran was a “positive step.”

Is the fact that it took the Iranians four months to respond to the letter, sent in October, a “positive” thing? Perhaps the Iranian announcement Sunday that it would stop oil exports to France and Britain is what inspired the EU foreign policy chief and her U.S. counterpart? Perhaps it was the two Iranian warships that passed through the Suez Canal over the weekend that contributed to the optimism of these women who shape Western foreign policy – and still believe the Iranian regime will bring salvation?

Tehran has its own problems: The confrontation between Iran’s strong man, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is growing. For the first time ever, an Iranian president was summoned to a hearing in the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) because of the troubling situation in his country. Early next month, Iran will elect a new parliament. The aim of Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard is to weaken Ahmadinejad’s camp.

At the same time, the streets are quietly seething. The value of Iran’s national currency is dropping and the June 2009 presidential election, stolen from the citizens, has apparently not been forgotten. It seems that the Iranian regime wants to first settle its problems at home and then deal with those outside. This is how stressful the West’s pressure is on the ayatollah’s regime.

The Iranians decided to continue conversations with the five members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the parties will have to find a formula for negotiations that will benefit all sides, unlike what happened in Istanbul in January 2011. Western diplomatic sources said on Sunday that the Iranians were willing to resume talks “without preconditions.” Sometimes it is hard to figure out who the superpower is in this story, Iran or the West.
The Iranian theater breaks new records daily. The West gives Iran every reason to continue to race toward producing the bomb. Washington sends envoys to Israel to ensure that the attack option is removed from the table. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey describes the Iranian regime as a rational player. As far as Washington in concerned, deterring Iran is based on sanctions the U.S. wants, but does not necessarily believe will succeed.

While Clinton and Ashton are enthusiastic about the letter from Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, in Israel there is nothing left to do but pinch ourselves and ask: Is all this real?