Sunday, April 12, 2009

New York Time's Iran normalization scenario

Roger Cohen doesn't claim this scenario comes from Mohamed El Baradei, but there is that implication since the context is a description of a long interview.

Here's the scenario he or they come up with:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (non-recognition and non-interference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Al Qaeda terrorism; and commits to improving its human rights record.

The United States commits itself to the Islamic Republic’s security and endorses its pivotal regional role; accepts Iran’s right to operate a limited enrichment facility with several hundred centrifuges for research purposes; agrees to Iran acquiring a new nuclear power reactor from the French; promises to back the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization; returns seized Iranian assets; lifts all sanctions; and notes past Iranian statements that it will endorse a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians.

I don't know if Iran would accept a deal like this if it was offered. The entire issue from both sides hinges on what a "Malaysian" approach to Israel entails in detail. The US plan for Palestine is to starve the Palestinians unless and until they vote in a way that arguably can be interpreted as acceptance of a two state solution, or arguably can be interpreted as acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Shah would have stood back and watched that process. The Egyptians have accepted a role in advancing this process, contrary to the sensibilities of the Egyptian people - the price of this being US acceptance and support for a permanent family-led dictatorship Mubarak and his progeny. Malaysia is much farther away from Israel than Iran is, but if Malaysia was geographically in Iran's position it would be acting a lot more like Iran does now than like Saudi Arabia.

Standing back and watching the US and Israel further pressure the Palestinians would be a difficult arrangement for Iran to accept exactly because it is contrary to the Iranian idea of justice. Unless the deal includes some provision for changing what seems to be the US plan of having the Palestinians approve a two state solution under duress. The plan would have to include a provision for what happens if the Palestinians do not vote for a two state solution.
In other words, this deal requires an actual agreement between Iran and the US on the ultimate resolution of the Israel dispute.

From the US/Israeli point of view, once sanctions break, they are difficult to reinstate. Once US companies have contracts with Iran, profits are being made and offices opened, the US has few options if covert, then increasingly open, aid begins flowing again from Iran to the Palestinians. The Saudis and Egyptians, if they do not trade on terms better than Iran's with the West, will feel pressure to at least match Iran in supporting the Palestinians.

A deal like this, before an agreement on the outcome of the Israel conflict, would be a huge strategic defeat for Israel and would render Israel's remaining a Jewish state non-viable over the long term.

It is good to see scenarios at least fleshed out specifically. Statements about "grand bargains" without details hide the real difficulties that may actually be impassable. In that sense Cohen has performed a service.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times seems to have taken the lead role in selling a rapprochement between the US and Iran to the US decision-making community. This new role, if memory serves, began after the beginning of the Obama administration. It is possible that this is an indicator that there is a serious intention of recasting the US/Iranian relationship. Friends of Israel are right to feel threatened by such a recasting. Friends of the Palestinians watch this with cautious optimism. We'll see where it goes.


Ziad said...

Will Iran accept such a deal? The answer depends on the changing regional balance of power.

1) How close is Iran to a nuclear breakout capability? If in the next year or two Iran will be in a position to go nuclear at will, the West will have to be much more generous in its offers.

2) How is the U.S. economy fairing? I'm of the opinion that we are in the eye of the storm and the true impact of the banking crisis, followed by a crisis of employment is yet to be felt. If so, America's ability to pressure Iran diminishes.

3) Oil. The economic situation is a double edged sword for Iran as it may cause prices to collapse. Nevertheless, if oil marches back up towards 70$ and above, Iran is largely immune to economic moves.

4) How is Russia doing? If Russia is becoming a serious competitor to the U.S., then the prospect of a Russia-Iran alliance will be frightening to U.S. decision makers. They may sweeten the deal to keep Iran out of such an alliance.

5) Afghanistan. How bad is it and how much help does the U.S. need from Iran? A very big bargaining chip for Iran which Roger Cohen does not mention.

Finally, what is Iran's long term objective? I believe they seek a position of respect and leadership in the Islamic world. Compelling the West to give the Palestinians a better deal Achieves this goal.

So my overall impression is that the above deal might have been acceptable to Iran 4-5 years ago. Probably not now.

Arnold Evans said...

I have a question for you Ziad.

First thanks for all the feedback on articles I've written for a while now. I really always appreciate it.

Now, how far do you think Iran would be willing to go on Israel?

I don't think they'd be willing to go as far as the Saudis who stopped at least publicly funding Hamas due to US pressure.

As much as I dislike the Saudis and have no respect for them, they have not made any tangible commitments to Israel. The US would not be able to accept that from Iran because the next day Iran could resume funding Hamas and Hezbollah. But Iran can't go further than the Saudis.

I see that as the only unsolvable issue, but I see it as irreconcilable unless the US and Iran come to an ultimate agreement about the fate of Israel and the Palestinians. The nuclear issue is trivial compared to that. I think even Venezuela under Chavez could have a enrichment if it wanted it and it was under inspections. Without Israel, Iran would be fine.

Just saying they'll support a two-state solution if the Palestinians vote for it can't work because without severe pressure, the Palestinians aren't going to vote for a two-state solution, especially considering refugees outside the occupied territories.

Do you think Iran could offer to make any changes at all on its policies regarding Palestinian resistance? I'm not sure what it could offer.

Ziad said...

Thanx, Arnold.

My view is that the post cold war U.S. centric balance of power is in flux, and the U.S./Western European dominance is in a slow decay. This decay may be reversible, but probably not. In other words, time seems to be on Iran's side and they know it. The deals currently under consideration all have one thing in common; Iran accepts that it will be the second strongest power in the middle east.

I see no reason for Iran to accept any such deal. It has a sophisticated population of 70 million, oil and natural gas in abundance, arable land and a very strategic location. Iran is potentially the most powerful nation in the region by a country mile and only restriction of trade and technology holds it back.

Iran is also a nation state with a 3000 year history.

That brings us to the 70 year old construct of the British Empire known as Saudi Arabia. It is a royal family dependent on U.S. protection. Iran is not dependent.

And so I doubt they will ever accept a deal for the Palestinians that resembles what the U.S./Israel have in mind. They may very well accept a two state solution based on pre '67 borders, but as you say, the Israelis will only accept such a deal under the severest pressure.

But quite frankly, the Issue between Israel-Iran and the U.S. is not so much the Palestinians. It is the perception of power. Israel cannot tolerate an Iran seen as stronger it is, even if it were Malaysian in it's foreign policy. First, the Israeli mythos of conquest would be challenged and that makes it harder to attract Jewish Immigrants. And second, it means other powers will assume Iran is the address for security negotiations and not Israel.

So I'm of the opinion that even if Iran wanted such a deal as outlined in the NYT, the Israelis would fight it tooth and nail.

The most likely outcome is that the U.S. dilly dallies while its position deteriorates and Iran's grows stronger, eventually making a nuclear capable Iran a fate accompli. After which things start to get really interesting.

Looking forward to your next post.

Ziad said...

Regarding your previous post on whether Israel will attack Iran, I'm wondering what you think of this article

By Roane Carey at Tomdispatch. Its much clearer and more logical than the slate article.