Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Astute Diplomatic Efforts
To get a sense of just why we urgently need to rethink our approach to dealing with Iran in general and its uranium enrichment program in particular, read Kaveh Afrasiabi 's two articles over at Asia Times Online: this one, which discusses the internal divisions within Iran on their uranium enrichment policy, and this one, which discusses this week's Caspian Sea regional summit. Here's a clip from the first article quoting Hassan Rowhani, Iran's former chief negotiator on the nuclear dossier:
Today in the international sphere we are confronted with more threats than ever before. A country's diplomacy is successful when it does not allow the enemy to bind to itself other countries against the national interests of that country ... We should not create opportunities for the expansion of enemies ... Unfortunately, our enemies are increasing. Yesterday, England was standing next to America, but today, France has heatedly joined the United States.
The problem, as Afrasiabi points out, is that Iran isn't actually doing that badly in the diplomatic arena:
...Rowhani's blistering criticisms coincided with a two-day visit by a high-ranking delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), led by the Deputy Director-General, Olli Heinonen, who met with the Iranian officials and fine tuned the recent Iran-IAEA agreement pertaining to nuclear transparency and the timetable to resolve "outstanding questions" regarding the chronology of Iran's centrifuges.
Pointing to this agreement as well as the UN Security Council's inability to impose further sanctions in light of opposition by Russia and China, and Putin's much-anticipated planned visit to Tehran next week irrespective of the loud American objections to such a visit, Ahmadinejad's supporters have questioned the wisdom, let alone timing, of Rowhani's criticisms.
Now members of Ahmadinejad's parliamentary majority are calling for legal action against opposition members practicing "parallel diplomacy". In other words, Iran's diplomatic successes are making it easier to target opponents of Ahmadinejad's belligerent approach. And that was before this week's Caspian Region summit meeting, whose most significant outcome was a strengthening of the Russian-Iranian strategic re-alignment:
How did this summit come about? The answer is, first and foremost, by astute diplomatic efforts on Iran's part and, equally, by a strategic evolution of Russia's foreign policy that is no longer self-handicapped by prioritizing tactical or conjunctural interests above strategic ones.
Having reached this level, Moscow is now poised to enter into a new strategic relationship with Iran that will serve the geostrategic, security, and other shared interests of both nations...
A major achievement for Iran's diplomacy and particularly for Amadinejad's embattled foreign policy team, the "good news" summit will likely serve as the hinge that opens new breathing space for Iran's diplomacy, and not just toward the Caspian, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Iran's Persian Gulf policy is also bound to benefit from the improved image of Iran in the Middle East, making more attractive Iran's role as a corridor to Central Asia which the Arab world in general and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in particular can take advantage of in their external trade and energy policies...
To summarize Afrasiabi's main points, there's been a pretty dramatic shift in momentum over the past few weeks on the Iranian nuclear standoff. France's adoption of the American hardline position backfired, alienating both Russia and China. Now Putin is pretty clearly throwing his weight behind Iran. He'll need to show that he can get some concessions from Tehran, ie. a reasonable bargaining position with the IAEA. But Iran has already shown signs of moving in that direction.
The big question now is whether American diplomacy can prove itself as shrewd and adaptive as Iranian diplomacy. And if you're wondering, no, I never thought I'd see the day where that question wasn't the punchline to a Monty Python sketch either. Worse still, having boxed itself into a militaristic corner, the Bush administration doesn't exactly inspire optimism on the answer.