Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Is North Korea a good model for our nuclear discussions with Iran?

In the world of diplomacy, words are important.  This week at the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Benyamin Netanyahu warned Teheran and the rest of the world that Israel would not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.  "Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off the map."  A relatively junior Iranian diplomat replied that "the Israeli prime minister had better not even think about attacking Iran…"  Although the Iranian statement was interesting in that it was the first time that an Iranian delegate to the UN had publicly referred to "Israel" instead of the "Zionist entity," not much can be made of that fact because of the junior rank of the Iranian.  It might well have been a slip of the tongue rather than a deliberate signal that reflected a change in Iran's position regarding the legitimacy of Israel.

Another interesting bit of recent phraseology was Netanyahu's statement that "…Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.  If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone."  The prime minister's speech at the UN came the day after he had met with President Obama in Washington.  At that meeting, the Israeli leader is said to have warned Obama not to back off the sanctions and not to take Iran's charm offensive at face value.  Obama replied by assuring Netanyahu that it was "imperative" that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon, but it was also necessary to "test diplomacy."  Many observers, familiar with diplomatic doublespeak, suggest that Netanyahu's "stand alone" speech at the UN demonstrated the extent of his nervousness with regard to Obama's personal dedication to America's continued steadfast support of Israel.

Although the Iranians were encouraged by the fact that President Obama tried to arrange a meeting between himself and President Rouhani at the UN and, when that overture was rebuffed, made a telephone call to him after he returned to Teheran, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was unhappy with Obama's public statements of support for Israel following his meeting with Netanyahu.  He was particularly unhappy with Obama's assurances to Netanyahu that the military option was still on the table.  Zarif boldly warned that Obama's "flip-flop" threatened efforts to build trust.

Rouhani and Zarif are both experienced diplomats of the first order.  Both have been involved with Iran's nuclear program for decades.  Both have a good command of the english language and both know a great deal about this country (particularly Zarif).  There is no question about it.  Ayatollah Khamenei has deployed his first team and it is tempting to think that his strategy has been in play for a long time.  It is not beyond the realm of possibility that he had earlier selected the bellicose Ahmadinejad as his front man with the intent of further dramatizing the "change in attitude" represented by the deployment now of Rouhani and Zarif.  I know little of Iranian internal affairs and so this speculation could be wildly off the mark.  It might just be happenstance that a bellicose, uncouth, malcontent was replaced by a sophisticated southing voice of reason at just the right time.  Whatever the road traveled, the psychological result is the same and it is powerful.

The issue here is important and it is not just the security of the state of Israel.  Iran has been a declared enemy of the United States ever since the religious revolution that overthrew the Shah and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.  There is no concrete evidence that it has changed it's mind about America and now wants to make nice with the country that it has repeatedly and officially labeled the "Great Satan."  Obviously, Iran does want to protect it's fledgling nuclear program and it would be very nice to get out from under the economic sanctions that, by all accounts, are beginning to hurt their economy rather severely.  The official line coming out of Teheran is that Iran insists on it's right to have a peaceful nuclear program, but does not desire to have a nuclear weapon.  In fact, it desires not to have a nuclear weapon.

Both the American and Iranian sides have recently said that they see the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue.  Understandably, a war weary America is attracted to the idea and, equally understandably, an Israel under attack is worried about the long term consequences.  I have no idea what is being considered behind closed doors, but it looks to me that the deal that is being discussed by Kerry and Zarif relates to enrichment levels not to the nuclear program per se.  One of the reasons that I come to this conclusion is Zarif's unsolicited public statement that Iran's right to engage in the enrichment of uranium is non-negotiable, but Iran is willing, in principal, to permit UN inspection of it's nuclear facilities to ensure that it is living up to it's agreement not to build a nuclear weapon.  Israel sees this as nothing more and nothing less than the way in which America dealt with the North Korean nuclear program and it worries that the result will be the same.  So do I.

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