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US Shows Some Cleverness with Iran - by Ross Kaminsky

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a shift in the US position on Iran that is both more and less than it seems.

The US has offered to participate in direct talks with Iran for the first time in a quarter century if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program.

In my view, there is little chance of a US diplomat and and Iranian negotiator sitting across a table from each other anytime soon with such a pre-requisite.

Rice's announcement was thus not a serious attempt to get face-to-face discussions with a country that has consistently asserted a sovereign right to do anything it wants with nuclear technology.

Instead, what we are seeing is the US putting itself in a position to say with some creditiblity "We have tried everything else" when pushing forward with economic sanctions and eventually with military action (which I think is at least a 50/50 proposition on some limited scale.)

There have probably been some truly intense discussions behind the scenes with Russia and China, along the lines of "We'll try the diplomatic route, but only if you will go along with us to harder methods of persuasion of that doesn't work." And there must have been threats of some sort made to Russia and China, roughly along the lines that we will do what we have to with or without them, as we did in Iraq. What I wonder is why those threats would have made any difference, given the mess that is Iraq at this time. I guess Condi came up with more persuasive threats than I have thought of so far, possibly including reminding Russia and China that they both have Muslim separatist minorities who wouldn't mind getting their hands on a nuclear weapon or at least a "dirty bomb" from a newly-proliferating Iran.

The mullahs who run Iran are many things, but they are not stupid. They realize that the US is putting them in a corner...a corner of international isolation, by saying we will participate in diplomatic efforts if Iran stops what can only be a military use of fissile material.

To this point, Iran has consistenly stuck its thumb in the eye of the rest of the world, emboldened by the Chinese and Russian reluctance to go along with "persuasion". (This behavior by the Chinese and Russians is something we should neither forgive nor forget, but which we must put aside until Iran is dealt with.) The shift in US position and rhetoric makes Iran's next step a rather difficult choice.

Two options are the most probable: 1) Just say no, figuring that Iraq has taken too much out of the US for us to respond forcefully, especially given likely continued blockading of the Security Council by Russia and/or China, and 2) Just say OK, and come to the table for long drawn-out discussions of what they can extort from the US for "permanent" cessation of uranium enrichment programs. In all likelihood, if Iran says "OK, we have stopped enrichment", they will be lying. They have no intention of stopping before they have developed a nuclear weapon. The question is whether they will be good enough at hiding from inspectors, satellites, and spies to keep the underground program from being discovered. If I had to bet on it, I'd bet they can and they will.