Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Dangerous Iran? Here's A Plan

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The New Republic

Our negotiations with Iran are not off to a good start. After the initial meeting in Geneva on October 1- with Iran on one side and Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the United States on the other-Iranian representatives said they had agreed to send processed uranium to Russia. Then, a day later, one of the Iranian negotiators denied they had agreed to any such thing. Iran, it seems, is in no mood to make genuine concessions. But, then again, why should it be? The sad fact is that Tehran holds most of the negotiating cards right now. The essential problem is an old one in the history of negotiations between dictatorships and democracies. As was the case in the famous negotiations over intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe in the 1980s, there is a fundamental asymmetry whenever a dictatorship sits down at the table with a democracy. Criticizing their government's march to the bomb brands Iranian citizens as tools of foreign powers and possibly as traitors. This dynamic has only worsened in the wake of Iran's recent crackdown on protesters. There seems to be a widespread assumption that Iran's internal turmoil has somehow weakened the regime's nuclear negotiating position. In fact, the opposite is true: The crackdown means that speaking out against the regime from inside the country is now riskier than ever. Tehran is therefore unlikely to feel any domestic pressure to make concessions during the coming negotiations.

All the domestic political pressures of the debate will be asymmetric: They will have an impact only on the governments of Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Iranian negotiators have proven themselves to be skillful tacticians, and they are likely to exploit this asymmetry by doing two things: playing for time and raising the issue of Israel's nuclear weapons. Their rationale for doing the former is obvious: The absence of freedom in Iran will only become more and more of a tactical advantage the longer negotiations continue, as pressures for compromise build up on only one side. As for the latter: By pointing to Israel's nuclear weapons, Iran knows that it can exploit the existing hostility toward Israel in many European countries. The Soviet Union tried an analogous gambit during the battle over the Euromissiles in the 1980s. In the late 1970s, Moscow had deployed intermediate-range SS-20 missiles capable of striking targets in Western Europe. In December 1979, President Carter and our NATO allies agreed both to counter the new Soviet weapons by stationing American intermediate-range missiles in Europe and to propose a new round of arms-control negotiations with the Soviets, offering a scaled-backed NATO deployment in return for a reduction in their SS-20s. The USSR, however, demanded something more: that the nuclear weapons of Britain and France be counted in any negotiations. (Read more...)