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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Sep 20th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Analysis arrow Policy Shift Seen in U.S. Decision on Iran Talks
Policy Shift Seen in U.S. Decision on Iran Talks PDF Print E-mail
Written by ELAINE SCIOLINO, NYTimes   
Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Iranian Centrifuge
Iranian Centrifuge

PARIS — The decision by the Bush administration to send a senior American official to participate in international talks with Iran this weekend reflects a double policy shift in the struggle to resolve the impasse over the country’s nuclear program.

First, the Bush administration has decided to abandon its longstanding position that it will only meet face-to-face with Iran after it first suspends uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council.

Second, it infuses the negotiating track between Iran on the one side and the six global powers — France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States — on the other with new importance, even though their official stance is that no substantive talks can begin until the uranium enrichment stops.

The presence of William J. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, at the meeting led by Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, and Saeed Jalili, Iran’s nuclear negotiator, in Geneva on Saturday brings with it both symbolic and substantive significance.

All of the Bush administration’s negotiating partners, particularly the Europeans and the Russians, have been pressing Washington to join the talks. They welcomed the decision to send Mr. Burns as an important signal by the Bush administration, in its final months in office, that it is seeking a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis and not moving toward military action against Iran.

“We are awaiting the formal announcement from Washington, and if this is the case, we are very pleased by the administration’s decision,” said Cristina Gallach, Mr. Solana’s spokesman, in a telephone interview. “It is a clear signal to the Iranians of the engagement of the United States and its commitment to pursue a negotiated solution. At the same time, it is a clear message to the Iranians of the seriousness of this exercise.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed Mr. Solana by phone on Tuesday of the decision to send Mr. Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official, to the talks, according to European officials who spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.

The officials added that the mere presence of an American at the table will help to still the rhetoric of those calling for military action against Iran because of both its recent expansion of its uranium enrichment program and its unwillingness to cooperate more fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency on explaining suspicious past nuclear activities.

Mr. Burns will neither meet privately nor negotiate directly with Mr. Jalili, administration and European officials said. They expect his attendance to be a one-time event in what are being described as “pre-negotiations” on the shape and timing of more substantive talks. Ms. Rice told Mr. Solana that Mr. Burns would be there “to listen,” one official added.

In Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the country’s ultimate authority, said on Wednesday on state television that his country would not bow to any threat made during negotiations, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Iran has decided to take part in negotiations but it will not accept any threat,” the ayatollah was quoted as saying. He added, “Our red lines are clear and if the other parties respect the Iranian people, the dignity of the Islamic republic and these red lines, our officials will negotiate as long as no one makes any threats against Iran.”

Iran repeatedly has made clear that its “red lines” refer to its insistence that it has the right to peaceful nuclear energy as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the enrichment of uranium.

American and Iranian envoys, including the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, have met episodically in several face-to-face talks in Baghdad in an effort to discuss areas of common concern over Iraq.

But there have been very few other direct encounters between American and Iranian officials since relations between the two countries were severed following Iran’s seizure of the U.S. Embassy in late 1979 and its 15-month holding of 52 American hostages.

During the hostage crisis, President Carter once secretly sent Hamilton Jordan, his chief of staff, dressed in disguise as part of a parade of potential negotiators.

In 1986, President Reagan sent his former national security adviser, Robert C. McFarlane, on a secret arms-for hostages mission to Iran bearing gifts: a key-shaped chocolate cake from a kosher bakery in Tel Aviv and a Bible which Mr. Reagan had inscribed with a New Testament passage.

There were also unannounced mid-level contacts involving American and Iranian officials on the sidelines of six-country talks on Afghanistan in Geneva several years ago.

The one-day meeting in Geneva in a location to be arranged by the Swiss government will include the political directors of the five other countries involved in the Iran talks.

Earlier this month, Iran formally responded to a proposal of broad political and economic incentives by the six powers aimed at resolving the nuclear impasse, but ignored the key issue of its uranium enrichment activities.

Instead, the response, which came in a letter by Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki addressed to Mr. Solana and the six world powers, said that Iran would be willing to open a comprehensive negotiation with them.

That the letter was also addressed to Ms. Rice as well as the foreign ministers of the five other countries was seen as a sign of Iran’s willingness to engage directly with the United States and may have factored into the American decision to send Mr. Burns.

The letter, which has not been made public, said Iran’s policy on negotiations over its nuclear program was to “find common ground through logical and constructive actions” and a “positive attitude.” It also noted that there were “certain similarities” between a letter Mr. Mottaki presented to the United Nations earlier this year and the one presented as part of the incentives initiative last month by the six powers.

The letter also criticized Security Council sanctions against Iran as “illegal,” adding, “The time for negotiating from the condescending position of inequality has come to an end,” the Iranian response said, according to officials who have seen the document.

The letter was clearly aimed at getting a negotiating process started, and the six powers were not in a position to say no.

Under the incentives proposal offered to Iran, the two sides would agree to a mutual “freeze for freeze” under which Iran would not increas uranium enrichment activities and the six powers would not seek more international sanctions.

During this period, the two sides would work out the shape of further negotiations. For substantive negotiations to start, Iran first will have to halt its production of enriched uranium, which, depending on the enrichment level, can be used to produce electricity or fuel bombs.

On Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said that in the meeting this weekend, the two sides would discuss a “timetable” lasting a certain number of weeks in an effort to break the deadlock.


 Back Story With The Times's Steven Lee Myers (mp3)

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 July 2008 )
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