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The Diplomatic Onus is Placed on Iran

Helene Cooper has a good piece in The New York Times about the Obama administration’s evolving stance on Iran, but it leaves out something that’s going to be an increasingly relevant concern if the regime weathers the opposition’s challenge to its authority: when negotiations with Iran can or ought to proceed. Cooper does a good job of noting that the administration’s long-stated determination to reestablish diplomatic contact is tempered by the fact that the regime has rebuffed all its overtures thus far. But what’s gone unnoticed, by and large, is that the administration has been laying out a case during the post-June 12 election crisis that the onus is on Iran to restart multilateral negotations.

Ian Kelly, the State Department spokesman, handled that question yesterday:

…as far as the P-5+1 is concerned, of course, you know that Javier Solana sent out an invitation. We, of course, are waiting for an answer to that invitation, and we haven’t –

QUESTION: But you could meet without –

MR. KELLY: We haven’t received…

The P-5+1 is the diplomatic shorthand for the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia — and Germany, who have been patiently making overtures to Iran over its nuclear program for years. Solana, the European Union foreign-policy chief, has tried to restart nuclear diplomacy this year, and the Iranians have praised the offer while not taking steps to actually discuss it.

Now put that together with this quote that Mir Hussein Moussavi’s foreign spokesman gave to Eli Lake of The Washington Times:

Mr. Makhmalbaf said Mr. Mousavi and others in the opposition fear that Western leaders will eventually negotiate with the Iranian government despite its loss of legitimacy since the disputed elections.

“We are afraid Western countries, including the United States, will sign a deal with an Ahmadinejad government [even though] it is an illegal government that has not been elected and has come to power by a coup d’etat,” he said.

Even if it turns out that the regime survives this current crisis, the Obama administration is positioning itself not to rush in to any talks, and instead place the incentive on the regime to positively accede to the P-5+1 process, which so far this year, it’s not shown much of a willingness to accept.

Of course, if it does, then it really will place the administration in a bind. Does the administration and its allies then try to link human rights obligations to any nuclear deal, knowing that the regime won’t accept that, and thereby jeopardizing the prospect of keeping Iran free of nuclear weapons? (And that’s presuming that, say, China and Russia will accept that, which they probably won’t.) Or does it hold to its top priority of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and implicitly grant the regime legitimacy? Right now, though, the administration’s construction at least buys it time to judge Iranian intentions — and decide whether a regime willing to so blatantly steal an election is really rational enough to hew to its international obligations.

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