Friday, January 13, 2012

How worse Iran-West nuclear diplomacy could get?

It couldn’t be better time to ask both Iran and Western powers this question: Do you really want to talk?

Latest acts from both sides show that even they don’t know what the answer to this question is. International diplomacy abhors uncertainty and no matter what type of government rules a nation, states want a stable authority that it can rely on its words. Unfortunately, neither Iran nor the Western decision-making machine is closer to that.

Whenever these two sides want to talk, there comes an incident that derails these nuclear negotiations and deepen already high running mistrust between the two nations. Trita Parsi here explains how in the past the West scuttled nuclear talks and downplayed Tehran declaration Turkey and Brazil facilitated in 2010, a move Turkey said opened a window of opportunity to diplomacy if it did not entirely address Western concerns.

On Wednesday, an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a daylight assassination in Tehran, a development that most likely aimed at sabotaging nuclear talks the sides scheduled to have in seven weeks in Istanbul. The professor was reportedly working in Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility. Here is the picture: International Atomic Energy Agency confirms that Iran has started enriching uranium in a hidden underground bunker to 20 percent, a level where it can be quickly upgraded for use in a nuclear weapon. A day later, a nuclear scientist working in the uranium enrichment facility is killed.

Flashback to past couple of days, Iran and West could be seen in unprecedented wrangling, issuing threats and trading blames. The planned nuclear talks in Istanbul also come at a time when the EU prepares to ban importing Iran’s oil exports. Iran considers this casus belli, a cause of war and vows to shut down Strait of Hormuz to disrupt 35 percent of world’s oil supply, which in effect will bring world economies upside down.

Americans insist that “two-track Iran policy” – pressure and diplomacy – could work but I can’t help but surprise how talks could yield constructive results when both sides try to undermine each other.

Besides Iran’s bad record of reneging its promise in international affairs, Iran’s internal political rift and Israel will make nuclear talks more complicated than ever.

Several hardliner officials of Iran issued threats to Turkey weeks earlier yet Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi refused to associate his administration with those remarks. Similarly, some circles in Iran’s ruling establishment wanted to botch UK’s embassy in Tehran but later the Iranian foreign minister acknowledged that the incident was not welcomed. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Iranian government to pursue independent foreign policy and uncertainty over Tehran will further consume credibility of Iran in the eyes of the Western powers for its flips and flops.

In the Western camp, while the US administration and the EU are content with almost crippling sanctions on Iran, Israel is the short-tempered and uncompromising child. Assassination of scientists and diluting nuclear talks between Iran and the Western powers are effective ways to bury diplomatic efforts both sides rarely revive. And Israel is very good at that.

For serious diplomacy on Iran, there must be firm, stable positions on both sides and the promise of diplomacy will fail to walk its talk without it.  

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