Thursday, June 01, 2006

US agrees to Iran talks

Sort of, that is. Iran must suspend nuclear enrichment before the US will sit across the table. I'm not disappointed that conditions were set; preconditions are often part of negotiations, and they can serve as indicators of intent and goodwill. I do feel that the conditions required by Washington go too far. Suspending nuclear enrichment will be too large a climbdown for Iran.

Iran must now weigh the PR value of agreeing to US demands against its cultivated image of being the only Muslim nation standing up to evil Uncle Sam. My guess is that a bit more back and forth will be required before the two sides sit at the negotiating table.

But sit they will. The US knows that just having Iran reject an offer to negotiate won't be enough to get meaningful sanctions through the UNSC. Iran will have to show its intrangiance during face to face talks before Russia and China will agree to slap Iran down.

From Swiss-info:
In major policy shift, the United States offered on Wednesday to join European governments in direct nuclear talks with Iran if it suspends its uranium enrichment program, which Western powers believe is aimed at developing an atomic bomb.

A senior Bush administration official said Washington believed Russia and China would agree topursue U.N. sanctions against Iran if it rejects the offer or the talks fail.

The offer was announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice one day before major powers were to meet in Vienna to discuss Iran's nuclear activities.

Direct talks with Tehran on the nuclear dispute would mark a big change in U.S. relations with Iran following a break in formal diplomatic ties after the 1979 Islamic revolution and 52 Americans were held hostage in the U.S. embassy for 444 days.

A report on Iran's official news agency IRNA called the U.S. offer a "propaganda move." The comment was in a depatch datelined Berlin on European reaction to Rice and it was not clear if this was Iran's official response."

Considering the insistence by officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran on continuing uranium enrichment, these remarks made by Rice can only be considered a propaganda move," it said.

If the Iranians turn down the U.S. offer, the senior U.S. official said "there is also agreement that therefore we would have to proceed through the Security Council with a resolution and over time, depending on the Iranian response, move towards sanctions."

Russia and China have opposed U.N. sanctions against Iran but the U.S. official said they were now expected to support such a move if the talks fail."

What they've agreed is, if Iran does not accept this offer of negotiations, or accepts and then does not negotiate in good faith, we will return to the Security Council, we will get a resolution," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

France, Britain and Germany, which have spearheaded talks with Iran, welcomed the U.S. proposal and said they hoped it would push along negotiations.

Russia and China's U.N. ambassadors also praised Washington's overture, but Beijing's envoy urged the United States not to put conditions on its proposal. [...]
China is clearly the weak link here. They are playing the blocking role France and Russia did for Iraq in the Security Council in the run-up to the war. Getting China to agree to sanctions is what the US offer of negotiation is largely about. However, like Iran, China can afford to wait and play its Security Council veto card shrewdly. Expect China to urge Iran to negotiate with the US, but not to immediately vote for sanctions if Iran rejects the offer.