Monday, February 01, 2010

El Baradei on the TRR deal - He buys Barack Obama's hints, Iran does not

We have Muhammad El Baradei in an interview with the publication Foreign Policy speaking in as much detail as I've seen from him on the fall 2009 deal for fuel for Iran's Tehran Research Reactor.
FP: It seems like people are beginning to doubt that the Iranians are negotiating in good faith. Do you think that's fair? Do you think this deal still has potential?

ElBaradei: I think that, unfortunately, as we were moving ahead with this fuel package deal, which we were about to conclude, Iran fell into an internal fight as a result of the [contested June 2009] election. This issue became [part of] a payback situation in Iran, as I see it. I still have hope that this domestic hype will come to an end and then Iran will see the fantastic opportunity you have in that deal. It is not the deal per se, but the horizon that it opens.

I know from President Obama, personally, that if that deal were to take place, it would defuse that crisis by giving him the space to negotiate a comprehensive package with Iran where nothing is off the table. This would be the opening of what everybody has been hoping for, for many, many years. I hope that the Iranians, as they settle down their domestic situation, will understand the value of such an opening.

To have somebody like Barack Obama, who for the first time offers to negotiate with them without preconditions -- which is something we have long been waiting for -- and to have an opportunity to sit directly with the United States and talk about all the mutual grievances, is also an opportunity that will not last very long. If the Iranians are not negotiating fair and straight than there is no option other then to go towards sanctions, which would not resolve any issues and would make things worse. But people will have to take the other road, if the road of dialogue and negotiation is not open.
Baradei's assertion that "it is not the deal per se, but the horizon it opens", along with his claims to have been made to believe by Obama personally that it would lead to a "comprehensive package" is an indication that while the deal presented in public is poor from Iran's point of view, there are behind-the-scenes understandings that the US would be prepared to make concessions to Iran in the future if it takes the deal.

The first obvious observation I'll make is that an offer to negotiate with no preconditions - after Iran exports most of its nuclear fuel - is not an offer to negotiate with no preconditions. It is at best a change in preconditions from suspension to exporting so much fuel that the situation would be as if Iran suspended in 2007.

The problem is that this has shown itself to be a characteristic behavior of Barack Obama. Obama likes saying things that are misleading but arguably are not untrue in a technical sense. He claimed in the Nobel Prize speech that he has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prisoner camp. Maybe technically true, but the camp will be open for the foreseeable future, and Obama knew that when he made the statement.

Obama claimed that Iran is being asked to fulfill obligations regarding its nuclear program no different than those imposed on anybody else. That position is possibly arguable, if what is meant is that every country should follow Security Council resolutions once they are imposed, but the resolutions themselves clearly, obviously, were not imposed impartially. He said the United States does not interfere in the Iran's domestic issues. That's just a lie as the US has publicly budgeted funds to do exactly that.

I get a sense about Obama that he feels like he can trick people, as if he is so much smarter than his audience that he can leave himself clever escapes that nobody will notice. When I do notice them, I feel insulted. I ask why is he saying things that only detract from his credibility when his audience realizes he mislead them?

Because of this lack of credibility on the part of Obama personally, also because of what we've seen regarding the US backing down from its position that Israel stop construction in the West Bank, I find it harder than apparently El Baradei does to accept Obama's word that "a comprehensive package" would be offered if Iran just exports almost all of its LEU. I imagine Iranian strategists perceive Obama's credibility more like I do than like El Baradei does.

What the settlement issue introduces is the concern that even if Obama told Baradei that he would accept enrichment, and even if Obama really has that intention, pro-Israel forces in his administration could still possibly veto US support for any agreement that allows Iranian domestic enrichment - which would leave Iran without the fuel it exported up front, and with no compensation for it.

The United States can salvage the deal, but it would have to commit to Iranian enrichment before Iran makes any export of LEU on faith. Direct trades of LEU for fuel will be fine, but Iran exporting up-front and trusting the US to return fuel is not possible without a commitment, that the US would not be able to retract, that Iran would after a set negotiating period be left with an amount of domestic enrichment and a domestic uranium stock agreed in advance.

Nicholas Burns says the US strategy is to isolate Iran, tacitly accepting and containing an Iranian nuclear capability indefinitely. If that's his aim, the US has to choose between the hostile containment that we saw most of Bush's term or containment with agreed terms of coexistence as we saw in the last year or so of Bush's term after the 2007 NIE and Iran's reduction of support for anti-government Iraqi militias.

If the US intends for Iran to be contained the way Maoist China was contained, there is a lot of room for negotiation of the terms of such "containment". Burn's position could be consistent with Iran enriching enough fuel for around a dozen weapons, some fuel at 3.5% enriched, some at 20%, or it could be consistent with Iran agreeing to indefinitely hold its domestic stock beneath the level necessary for two weapons at 3.5%.

Negotiations on Iran's nuclear issue can happen with no preconditions, or they can move forward with a committal Iranian gesture accompanied by a US public acceptance of some amount of Iranian enrichment and domestic stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium.

The issue is that there is a certain amount of US combat deaths that will cause the US to decide to change from hostile containment to coexisting containment. Iran likely is able to cause that amount of US deaths between Iraq and Afghanistan without any more direct evidence than existed in 2006. I don't see any purpose in the US even trying hostile containment, which is characterized, among other ways, by increasing sanctions, as it just causes US soldiers to die needlessly before the US returns to coexisting containment.

I think Israel and its supporters prefer hostile containment of Iran to coexisting containment, if only based on the principle that every punishment of Iran helps deter independent policy in US colonies of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others. They want the perceived cost of Iran's opposition to Israel to be as high as possible. Hostile containment means hostility on both sides. US soldiers will die over sanctions that harm Iranians. I'm not sure how much the principle that opposition to Israel must carry costs is worth in terms of lives of US soldiers. Hostile containment also means Iran's nuclear stocks grow faster than they could under an agreement.

Possibly Obama has painted himself into a corner with this non-clever non-precondition that Iran export its uranium in exchange for trust in some words Obama gave El Baradei behind the scenes. Maybe it will be unfortunate that US soldiers have to die before Obama changes his mind and walks out of this corner.


Anonymous said...

This deal would require a huge amount of good faith on Irans part,give us your uranium and maybe you`ll get fuel in return after that maybe we`ll talk about other things,that sounds very long on maybes and very short on any real guarentees,personally I wouldn`t touch it with a 50ft pole,like I`ve said before the americans just can`t accept they have no position of strength with which to deal from,I`d always thought el baradei was a resonably intelligent person but after reading this I have my doubts,perhaps in his line of work even a really shitty deal is better than no deal at all.Its nothing but a bad joke that Irans good faith is questioned when they stand to get nothing up front but American promises,ones that are of dubious value at that,if the Americans were negotiating in good faith why do they not include iron clad gaurentees,why the insistence on one big transfer instead of several small reciprocal transfers,it all stinks pretty bad to me,maybe El baradei needs to give his nose a good blow,of course if you have your nose stuck in other peoples assholes for too long then everything starts to smell the same perhaps thats his and obamas problem

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know whats going on here??
if this story is true its a hell of an about face for iran,what on earth led them to accept such a ratshit deal and why now for gods sake??