There can be no two opinions that 2013 is going to be the year that the United States’s standoff with Iran will have to give way. It has been a toss-up so far, but the pendulum is steadily tilting toward the prospect of peace doves spreading wings and taking to the blue sky. Many tell-tale signs are appearing.
First and foremost, belying all logic, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shied away from attempts to raise the Iran issue to drum up support in the crucial parliamentary election later this month. He has also piped down on Iran approaching the ‘red line’, an apocalyptic vision he conjured up in the UN GA speech in September in New York.
Equally, Israel is lowering the threat perception from Iran, claiming now that with Syria in disarray, Iran is isolated and its Hezbollah ally is on the back foot.
This ‘cooling down’ follows a spate of reports in recent months since September of secret contacts between Israel and Iran. One report in Haaretz claimed that Netanyahu admitted the secret meetings and that former Israeli FM Shiomo Ben-Ami was present at the talks with Iran about its nuclear program.
The Israeli shift on Iran also runs parallel to the reports from Washington of a secret dialogue going on with Iran at a very high level through experts in President Barack Obama’s transitional team. Indeed, Obama himself took note recently that a diplomatic opportunity exists for the West and Iran to resume talks and, more important, that Iran’s nuclear program didn’t pose any imminent threat.
The big question is: How to talk to Iran? The New York Times has an opinion piece by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, the old war horse, which seeks to answer the question. His recommendation is deceptively simple, namely, US should try to grasp why the Iranians won’t put expediency above dignity. He estimates:
“We believe Iran would be open to new measures regarding the transparency of its nuclear program, and would agree not to pursue any capability to enrich uranium beyond that needed to fuel atomic power plants, if its legitimate right to enrichment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was recognized and if an agreement to remove sanctions was reached.” Mousavian’s opinion piece is here.
Indeed, influential voices in the West are rallying opinion that the US should begin serious negotiations with Iran. This past week alone, there was a WaPo editorial, an opinion piece by Zbigniew Brzezinski, and of course the suggestive NYT report by David Sanger quoting US officials in Washington.
Cut your way through the dense rhetoric and it becomes apparent that both Washington and Tehran are just about realizing that the escalation game has reached a dead end and there aren’t going to be any winners. The way out is to recognize each other’s red lines and talk, talk, and talk. Alright, the sanctions are hurting Iran but Tehran shows no signs of rethink on its nuclear program.
Put differently, the US has no stomach for war, while on the other hand Tehran realizes the futility of increasing the enrichment levels beyond 20 percent. Both sides are groping for what Trita Parsi calls ‘honorable exit options’.
Now, this week’s India-Iran consultations at the level of the national security advisors have been very timely. The prospect of an easing of US-Iran tensions holds profound implications for India’s regional policies. Don’t be surprised if Obama takes help from Tehran in pushing the Afghan endgame.
– January 4, 2013