Friday, May 26, 2006

Krauthammer: No to unilateral Iran talks (for once he's wrong)

Normally I find myself nodding in agreement while reading Charles Krauthammer's opinion pieces. Not today, though.

Today's article discusses the idea of direct US-Iran negotiations. He is decidedly contra.

Unfortunately, he doesn't produce his usual reasoned arguments. Instead he relies on invoking the hypocrisy of those calling for unilateral talks. He also (rightly) notes the outright cynicism of the Iranians' new request for unilateral talks.

Nevertheless, the weakness of his argument is here:
[...] After 2 1/2 years of utter futility, the E.U. Three [negotiating team, with the full backing of the US] had to admit failure and acknowledge the obvious: Iran had no intention of giving up its nuclear ambitions. Iran made the point irrefutable when it broke International Atomic Energy Agency seals and brazenly resumed uranium enrichment.

The full understanding we had with our allies was that if the E.U. Three process failed, we would go to the Security Council together and get sanctions imposed on Iran. Yes, Russia and China might still stand in the way. But even so, concerted sanctions by America, Europe and other economic powers could have devastating effects on Iran and its shaky clerical dictatorship. [...]
Certainly he realizes that it's not that Russia and China might oppse sanctions. It is an absolute guarantee that they will veto any UNSC resolution imposing meaningful sanctions. Unless Russia agrees to Krauthammer's proposed concerted multilateral sanctions, they will utterly fail. The only consequences will be to strengthen Iran's hand and show the rest of the world that doing business with Iran is highly profitable, and carries little risk. If the Mullahs can weather premature sanctions, it will be immensly strengthened domestically and in their own minds. Thus any multilateral sanctions without UNSC backing are doomed to failure and will be counter-productive.

Negotiations with China and Russia--with the aim to win them over to an eventual UNSC resolution with bite are every bit as important at the moment as is speaking with Iran.

Krauthammer again invokes the imminent application of sanctions, but again the UNSC is nowhere close to voting on any set of sanctions harmful to Iran:
Pushing Washington to abandon the multilateral process and enter negotiations alone is more than rank hypocrisy. It is a pernicious folly. It would short-circuit the process that, after years of dithering, is about to yield its first fruits: sanctions that Tehran fears. It would undo the allied consensus, produce endless new delays and give Iran more time to reach the point of no return, after which its nuclear status would be a fait accompli. [....]
I see no evidence sanctions that Tehran fears are anywhere close to becoming real. The world will want the US to negotiate with Iran at some point in time. Best to begin now and show that Iran isn't serious about restraining its quest for nuclear weapons. Europe has the will to push for sanctioning Iran, but only if it looks as though the US has truly bent over backwards. Europeans still exist in a foggy world where threats are far off, and there is always time to deal with them. The politicians may see things more clearly, but they must still sell any collaborations with the US to an anti-American public that does't want to face unpleasant truths.

Rejecting Iran's request will only serve to make the Mullahs look like the reasonable party. As cynical as their move is, at some point it will be necessary to enter unilateral discussions. Avoiding them now will harm the unity with which the West approches Iran.

UPDATE: Fellow RINO (Republicans/Independants Not Overdosed (on the party Kool-aid)) Cranky Insomniac thinks Krauthammer is right.