Friday, January 22, 2010

Open hand: a metaphor that clouds rather than clarifies

A Time Magazine interview of Barack Obama by Joe Klein published Thursday. Obama seems to have said a few paragraphs worth of things about the Middle East. One thing he said points to a fuzziness of language that I find very pervasive in the US foreign policy community, especially on issues regarding the Middle East.
On Iran, one of our trickiest foreign policy challenges, we have held the international community together, both in our engagement strategy, but also now as we move into a dual-track approach. Which is, If they don't accept the open hand, we've got to make sure they understand there are consequences for breaking international rules. It's going to be tough, but I think the relationship we've developed with Russia will be very helpful. The outreach we've done to our traditional NATO allies will be very helpful. The work that we've done with China — including the work we've done with China to enforce sanctions against North Korea — will help us in dealing more effectively with Iran.
What, exactly, is Iran being asked to accept as "the open hand"? Those who follow closely know exactly what "the open hand" means. The United States has changed its previous demand that Iran suspend enrichment before formal negotiations to a demand that Iran export the enriched uranium it already has and remain with a smaller stock than it has today before and during formal negotiations. Laura Rozen, reporting for Politico finds an Obama administration Iran expert who explains:
"As long as under no situation over the next year there is enough LEU to produce a bomb, whether Iran ships out the fuel in one, two or three batches, is just a logistical issue," he said.
Obama's preconditions are effectively more limiting than George Bush's precondition and Obama has not changed the Bush administration ultimate objective of attaining an indefinite and possibly permanent US veto over Iranian domestic enrichment.

The Iranian nuclear issue is actually deceptively simple at this point. The US wants a veto over Iranian enrichment, and believes that the Security Council has given it a right to have this veto. Iran refuses to give the US a veto over domestic enrichment and regards the UN Security Council resolutions that would produce that effect as intolerable violations of its sovereignty. There is no practical way for the US to force Iran to submit its nuclear program to a US veto, so the US is faced with a choice of either accepting that it cannot stop Iranian enrichment or not accepting what is a fact regardless.

There really is only one important question remaining regarding the Iranian nuclear issue. Does the US accept Iranian domestic enrichment or not. Bush did not. As long as Obama does not, there is no practical difference between Obama policy and Bush policy.

I guess at this point I can point out that many non-weapons NPT signatories have domestic enrichment, that Iran and others have made proposals that would address, as reasonably as possibly, concerns that Iran is building a weapon and that the US position goes beyond the making of a weapon and beyond the NPT to attempt to deny Iran the theoretical capability of making a weapon. I think these things are well known by now.

When Obama says Iran has the alternative of accepting an "open hand" instead of saying he wants Iran to accept a US veto over Iranian enrichment, and is allowed to present the alternative that way by the interviewer, he does not misinform the Iranians. He does not misinform people who follow the issue closely. He only misinforms the majority of Americans who pay marginal attention to these issues.

Obama may well have himself convinced that his position is different from that of his predecessor. He came into the White House a blank slate on foreign policy issues and for domestic political reasons, he has chosen to allow his Middle East foreign policies to be directed by people with agendas hostile to Iran because of Iran's rejection of Israel's legitimacy. In this structurally biased world, the same policy can be perceived as different if it is given a label like "open hand".

1 comment:

b said...

Russia comes out against sanctions:

Russia Warns Against Rushing to Iran Sanctions

"If our logic is to punish Iran, or if we take up the posture of the offended ... this will not be a sober approach," Lavrov told reporters at a news briefing.

"It is not a simple situation and it is not made any easier by the domestic political situation in Iran," said Lavrov, who added that world powers should not risk undermining the work of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.