Open Zion

10.22.12

Who Opposes Talking To Tehran?

There was an interesting tidbit in the big New York Times story yesterday on Iran and the U.S. reportedly agreeing to nuclear talks after the election. The Israeli government seems to be very, very against any talks with Iran. In reporting the article, Helene Cooper and Mark Lander apparently heard from the Israelis that they knew about and supported the incubating Iran-U.S. talks. But then Israeli officials reversed course. Here's the passage from the Times:

Israeli officials initially expressed an awareness of, and openness to, a diplomatic initiative. But when asked for a response on Saturday, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, said the administration had not informed Israel, and that the Israeli government feared Iran would use new talks to “advance their nuclear weapons program.”

“We do not think Iran should be rewarded with direct talks,” Mr. Oren said, “rather that sanctions and all other possible pressures on Iran must be increased.”

It's unclear why talks would be a "reward" to Iran, or how talks "advance" Iran's program. Sure, Iranian centrifuges will continue to spin during negotiations, but they continue to spin without negotiations, too. "There is nothing to lose," former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy told Laura Rozen. "Although the claim was, 'If you talk to them, you legitimize them.' But by not talking to them, you don't de-legitimate them."

Nonetheless, this morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu piled on Oren's memes and added his two cents:

Israel doesn't know about these contacts and I can't confirm that they've actually taken place. [...T]he international community, first of all, needs to set very clear demands to Iran: Halting uranium enrichment, removing all enriched uranium and dismantling the underground installation in Qom. I think that the best chance to succeed in halting Iran's nuclear program diplomatically is a combination of very sharp sanctions and a credible military option.

The last statement is completely absurd. How, if Netanyahu's government opposes negotiating with Iran, do they ever expect to "halt Iran's nuclear program diplomatically"? Or: when will the so-called "bite" of sanctions be enough that it is okay to talk to the Iranians, if ever? The pre-conditions Netanyahu lays down may just be markers for starting positions in talks—but the problem with pre-conditions like these, which Iran is sure to reject out of hand, is that opening bids for talks are useless without the talks themselves to winnow down these starting positions into a mutually agreeable compromise.

The Romney campaign, for it's part, is now also focused on a "credible military option" and bashing Obama for talking "without preconditions or pressure." Today, of course, there is ample pressure on the Iranians—their economy is in a shambles—and yet when the Times broke its story, Romney's team refused to say whether or not it would back talks.

The constellation of forces that opposes serious diplomacy (dealmaking) with Iran, whether roundly or simply under the guise of unrealistic pre-conditions, has become clear: it's the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Republican right in America. The alternative they don't dare push aloud is a continued path to war.