At the end of the week, Saeed Jalili, Iran's nuclear negotiator, is scheduled to arrive in Geneva for yet another round of talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. It is unclear what the two have to discuss.
On July 4, the Iranians sent their written response to the West's latest offer to appease them. In and of itself, the offer, made by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany and communicated to Iran by Solana, constituted a major achievement for the Iranians. It promised civilian nuclear power plants, economic assistance, new airplanes, agricultural assistance, hi-tech transfers and a freeze on the expansion of economic sanctions against the nuclear-weapons-seeking mullocracy. In exchange for all of that, the Iranians weren't even required to end their uranium enrichment activities. To get the ball of concessions rolling, all the Iranians needed to do was promise not to expand their current enrichment activities.
If Iran were ever even remotely interested in reaching a deal with the international community, this was the deal it would have taken. For the unspoken subtext of the agreement was that the international community is willing to accept a nuclear armed Iran in exchange for the mere appearance of Iranian willingness to bow to international pressure. As David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, explained to Newsweek last week, at their current, known level of uranium enrichment the Iranians are producing 1.2 kg. of enriched uranium a day. And at this enrichment level, they will be able to produce a nuclear bomb by next year. So the international community's willingness to accept continued Iranian uranium enrichment at current levels is a clear signal of the international community's willingness to accept a nuclear-armed Iran.
And yet, that offer still wasn't good enough for the Iranians. Their written response didn't even discuss the issue of uranium enrichment. They just asked for more concessions in exchange for nothing. And now they believe that their "counterproposal" should form the basis of this week's round of discussions.
As Iran submitted its response to the offer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dispatched his foreign policy adviser Ali Akbar Velayati to the media to discuss Iran's interest in accepting the West's offer. The Western media and some EU officials were so thrilled by the gesture that the immediate coverage of Iran's response lent the impression that Iran had in fact accepted the offer.
IT WAS only two days later, after those same officials sat down and read what the Iranians wrote that they realized that they had been tricked. And just to be sure that there was no residual optimism, senior Iranian leaders like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manoushehr Mottaki stated clearly that they would never accept any deal that places limitations on their uranium enrichment.
After verbally snuffing out all hopes for an agreement, Iran proceeded to show off its military prowess by testing ballistic missiles last week and augmenting those tests with verbal threats to destroy Israel and attack all US bases in the Middle East.
And still despite all of this, Solana looks forward to his meetings this Saturday with Jalili with hope for an accommodation. After Iran rejected a deal that effectively offered it acceptance as a nuclear-armed state, he still believes that the best way to deal with Iran's clear intention to acquire and use nuclear weapons is to offer it membership in the World Trade Organization.
Solana's unshakeable faith that Iran can be appeased is to be expected. After all, Solana was on the first flight to Teheran to begin negotiating with the mullahs the minute that Iran's nuclear program was exposed five years ago. And he's been running the talks ever since – first for France, Germany and Britain, and then starting last May, for the US as well.
Solana cannot acknowledge that the talks have failed. He is too personally invested in them to admit that Iran has been using him as the diplomatic fig leaf behind which it has pushed forward with its nuclear bomb program.
SOLANA IS a perfect example of why the oft repeated policy mantra "there's never any harm in talking" is incorrect. The basic idea behind that assertion is that negotiations can never cause damage, they can only do good – by resolving a conflict without resorting to force. But they can and often do cause tremendous harm – and to the wrong side.
If Europe's initial justification for negotiating with Iran was that it wished to convince Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program, over time that justification gave way to a more basic justification – to deny that the talks had failed. That is, after it became clear that the talks would not succeed in engendering a change in Iran's behavior, the parties involved changed their focus from Iran to themselves. The talks were about them. And if the talks failed, it wasn't because Iran refused to listen to reason. It was because the West hadn't given it a good enough offer. So just by engaging Iran and its ilk, these Westerners were transformed from Western representatives to the Iranian regime to advocates of the Iranian regime in the West.
As a result it has become nearly impossible to have coherent discussion about the Iranian nuclear program. For when the "experts" are called to tell us how to proceed in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, they instead exhort us to engage at ever higher levels with the Iranians in order to show them our good intentions toward them.
And of course, it isn't only Iran that is benefitting from the West's false belief in the harmlessness of negotiations. Iran's proxies in Syria and Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority are also prospering thanks to the West's belief that negotiations can only do good.
THE LATEST display of this Western preference for the pomp of accommodation over the responsibility of confrontation was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Mediterranean summit in Paris this week. The purpose of the parley, which Sarkozy has been trying to organize since entering office last May, was to project himself as a global leader in international affairs and to project France as an important country in Europe and throughout the world.
Although the summit – like the Barcelona and Madrid summits before it – was officially focused on building economic cooperation among the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and Europe, its actual purpose was to propel France to the position of peacemaker between Israel and its neighbors, and specifically between Israel and Syria. And to do this, the success or failure of the entire conference was contingent upon Syrian President Bashar Assad's willingness to participate and sit in the same room as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
To bring Syria on board, Sarkozy was compelled to accept the Assad regime as legitimate. And to do this, he needed to ignore the nature of the new Lebanese government, Syria's role in establishing it, Syria's support for terrorism, its feudal relationship with Iran and its role in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and a host of anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarians and journalists over the past three years.
Last Friday, just ahead of the Paris summit, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora announced that he had formed his new, Hizbullah-controlled government. Saniora was compelled to abdicate control over Lebanon to Iran's foreign legion as a result of Hizbullah's violent takeover of the country in May. And Hizbullah justified its coup by noting that Saniora's pro-democracy March 14 movement in the Lebanese parliament had failed to elect a new president to replace Emil Lahoud, who completed his term last November. Of course, Saniora only failed to elect a new president because Syria and
Hizbullah had murdered so many March 14 movement members of parliament that he no longer had enough votes to elect a candidate without Hizbullah's approval.
After Saniora announced his new Iranian-controlled government, Assad was quick to announce that he would be opening a Syrian embassy in Beirut for the first time ever. Assad's announcement was greeted with glee in the Elysee Palace and throughout the West. It was perceived as Syria's first acknowledgement of Lebanese sovereignty. But this is a false perception.
Syria's announcement was not a sign of moderation by Damascus but a sign of radicalization. Syria has not accepted Lebanon's sovereignty. It has accepted Iranian dominion over Lebanon. And in accepting Iran's control of Lebanon, Assad effectively acknowledged that today Syria is nothing more than Iran's Arab vassal state.
Rather than stand up for Lebanon in its hour of need, Sarkozy joined forces with the Bush administration and the Olmert-Livni-Barak government and pretended that Saniora and his pro-democracy forces are still in charge of the country. He pressured Israel to give Mt. Dov to Iranian-controlled Lebanon in spite of the fact that the territory is both vital to Israel's security and is part of the Golan Heights. And rather than boycott Syria for its role in destroying Lebanon, Sarkozy chose to embrace Assad as a peacemaker.
By doing all of this, Sarkozy argued he would place himself in a position of acting as an honest broker in talks between Israel and Syria. But of course like Solana in his constant struggle to find the right mix of concessions to convince Iran to only enrich small quantities of uranium, so Sarkozy's concessions to Syria served only to embolden Assad still further.
Assad agreed to come to Paris. But he refused to have anything to do with Olmert. And then, once he arrived in Paris, he gave an interview to Al-Jazeera explaining that he wouldn't sign a peace treaty with Israel even if it gives him the entire Golan Heights. As far as he is concerned, Israel has no right to expect him to normalize relations. And of course Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah al-Islam and all the rest of the terror groups living in Damascus are simply "resistance" groups and perfectly legitimate. And by the way, Iran, he assured us, is not developing nuclear bombs to the best of his knowledge.
So in exchange for recognizing the new Iranian-controlled regime in Lebanon and embracing Syria to the bosom of civilized nations, Sarkozy provided Assad with an international bullhorn to oppose everything that Sarkozy claims to be interested in achieving. But now that he's embraced engagement as his chosen strategy for dealing with Syria and Lebanon, he can do nothing but proceed with what he started. And so he committed himself to paying a state visit to Damascus by September.
Neither Sarkozy nor Solana are at all unique. Their associates in Europe, Olmert and his ministers, the State Department and most US political leaders support negotiating with rogue regimes that refuse to agree to anything except the West's need to make more concessions to them. And all of these leaders, at a certain point, have claimed that those negotiations mustn't be endangered by more confrontational policies that might actually have a chance of advancing their national interests.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.