Russian FM Lavrov and Iranian FM Zarif: what are they laughing about?
The controversial agreement between Iran and six world powers over Tehran's nuclear program continues to generate controversial articles on the pros and cons of its technical details. So much is written and said about its various aspects that, as it usually happens, the gradual build-up that led to the agreement was forgotten, and the history (fairly recent) of its inception isn't even mentioned. Which is significant, because, if I read it correctly, this forgetfulness is exactly what the powers, involved in the agreement, are counting upon.
From day one of his first term in the White House Obama put the rapprochement with Iran at the top of his "to do" list. As witnessed by NYT on January 11, 2009 (do you need a better witness?):
Speaking on the ABC News program “This Week,” Mr. Obama reiterated that he wanted to work directly with Iran — a country whose president has called for Israel’s destruction — to improve relations and halt a nuclear program that Tehran describes as peaceful, but that the West believes is not.And, whether it is a direct quote from Obama or not (the article doesn't make it clear), the sequence of the two goals: "to improve relations and halt a nuclear program" - shows the priority of the the goals. Improvement of relations first, nuclear program second. And a very distant second, if you ask me.
“We are going to have to take a new approach,” he told the program’s host, George Stephanopoulos. “My belief is that engagement is the place to start.”
If we disregard for a moment Iran's role in fomenting terror, its reactionary fanatic leaders, its thirst for regional hegemony etc. - there are many good reasons for an American leader to desire a new era in relations with Iran. A nation of 75 million that controls oil reserves second only to Saudi Arabia, has an ability to disrupt the main conduit of the Arab oil flow to the West, is technically savvy - such a nation makes a powerful friend indeed, but for now remains a powerful enemy. So, turning the trend and succeeding where five previous presidents failed, befriending Iran could be a real coup for Obama - whether he pines for the second Nobel Peace prize or not.
Of course, the way to improvement of relations with Iran wasn't easy even for president Obama, who, in his shining new mantle of a peacemaker and change bringer, was intent on achieving a quick breakthrough. Even the sweetest entreaties failed with the rabidly anti-Western Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose addiction to hateful rhetoric, tacitly backed by Ayatollahs, made any covert and overt approaches fail. However, Mahmoud the Mad's time in the office ended, and Hassan Rouhani stepped in. Not exactly an unknown figure, Mr Rouhani is, and not exactly a dove. So why, knowing all this, did Obama jump into the new round of talks with Iran, including, as we all know now, covert high level negotiations:
The United States and Iran secretly engaged in a series of high-level, face-to-face talks over the past year, in a high-stakes diplomatic gamble by the Obama administration that paved the way for the historic deal sealed early Sunday in Geneva aimed at slowing Tehran’s nuclear program, The Associated Press has learned.And why would president Obama suddenly forget his own "firm" stand against Iran's nuclear developments?
In 2010, White House Spokesperson Robert Gibbs declared that the administration had no intention of allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium. But as of November 2013, under the interim deal’s terms — which allow Iran to continue enrichment to 5% — Washington has consented to this very thing.Finally: is the US acceptance of the murky and unsatisfactory nuclear agreement with Iran another Chamberlain moment in the Western history, as many pundits say? Not in the eyes of the POTUS and his administration, I am more than sure. And here is the point where I have to disagree with the pundits. It is not that there is no resemblance between the Iran deal and the Chamberlain's shameful surrender - there is, but it is not the central point of the subject matter. Far from it.
In fact, Obama is teaching all of us a lesson in realpolitik. Where many see a surrender, Obama has successfully (second time this year, if you count the Syrian chemical weapons deal) feinted, substituting the prevailing aversion to dealings with a hateful regime by a huge red herring of nuclear negotiations. In the Western minds now, success in curbing the Iranian race to the nuke became a valid substitute to seeing Iran for what it is and for what it does, nukes or no nukes. And this is the turning point that will allow Obama to really start on the way to his goal: restoring the relations with Iran, which is what he has been dreaming about all along.
I am more than sure that neither Obama nor Pentagon and/or CIA see nuclear Iran as threatening the US or even its European and other allies. And I am also confident that this is a valid estimate. In the current administration's view, Iran needs the nukes first of all and above all as a deterrent against any possible neighborhood threats, chief of them, of course, Israel, but also the unfriendly Sunni states. Of course, a future possibility of dealing with the Zionist enemy is on the table, but even that is not an immediate concern. The nukes in Iranian arsenal will make it impervious to any external military threat and allow its dream of local hegemony to become reality - but this is of a slight concern to US administration, especially if its love affair with Iran bears fruit.
That the much desired rapprochement with Iran will require throwing a few previously close allies, such as Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and others under the bus, is quite clear and, in part, is already happening. But then, realpolitik cannot abide sentiments, and what needs to be done has to be done.
As for the nuclear deal with Iran: what deal?
Iran is currently enjoying a “window” of time before the six-month deal signed in Geneva early Sunday goes into effect, during which it is not bound to take any credible steps toward disabling its ability to produce a nuclear weapon, the State Department acknowledged Tuesday.Smoke and mirrors, ladies and gentlemen, smoke and mirrors. And meanwhile, I bet, fairly senior teams of US and Iranian diplomats hammer out the terms of re-opening the embassies...
Afterword and more links: if you need more proof, here comes one Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times, with an unequivocal message*:
It may not work, but it’s a worthy bet because the only real security for Iran’s neighbors can come from an evolutionary change in the character of that regime. So, if Iran’s nuclear capabilities are curbed, we can live with that bet on evolutionary change — especially since it would likely facilitate an end to the U.S.-Iran cold war, which has hampered our cooperating on regional issues. Our allies, by contrast, do not trust Iran at all and therefore don’t believe in evolutionary change there. They want Iran stripped of all nuclear technology until there is regime change.Which, in a simpler translation, means: yeah, we told you we'll not allow a nuclear Iran: so we lied, sue us.
We can’t close that gap. We can only manage it by being very clear about our goals: to unleash politics inside Iran as much as possible, while leashing its nuclear program as tightly as possible, while continuing to protect our Arab and Israeli allies.
(*) When Thomas L. Friedman uses the royal "we" in his texts, he means "Obama and I", and he has all the good reasons to do so. You better believe it.
And, if you desire some consolation, here is a scathing WaPo editorial about the deal.
For more supportive details, you could do much worse than read this astute piece:
The interim deal makes official what Obama has long been pursuing—a strategic realignment integrating Iran into a multipolar Middle East, where once traditional American allies will no longer enjoy a privileged relationship with Washington. The signs pointing to Obama’s new configuration, downgrading Saudi Arabia and Israel and upgrading Iran, have long been apparent, if incredible.And, not without some reason: Worse Than Munich.
For those of you who crave technical details, a good source here.
A realistic analysis by Ron Ben-Yishai, highlighting the dangers.
There is so much more... but I'll let you go. For now.