Lots of confusion to sort through when it comes to the EU3+3 proposal just delivered to Iran. Iran rejected the offer. Or it didn’t. The EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed to freeze the assets of Iran’s largest European banking outlet, the Melli Bank. Or it didn’t. And Iran removed $75 billion from its European accounts as a precaution. Unless, of course, it didn’t.
The proposal itself (I’ve read the French version here (.pdf), and I’m trying to track down an English version, but you can get a sense of it here and here) offers a trust building “freeze for freeze” period of six weeks, where Iran would freeze any further centrifuge installations and the EU and UNSC would freeze any further rounds of sanctions. Iran would then have to verifiably freeze its uranium enrichment program in return for the opening of negotiations that might ultimately lead to Western assistance for a light water reactor, civil nuclear program with a contractually guaranteed nuclear fuel supply and cooperation (which I read to mean Western oversight) on fuel reprocessing. The proposal then offers a very wide range of political engagement, cultural exchange, and eocnomic incentives, most notably the lifting of all trade restrictions, including on Iran’s crippled commercial aviation sector, but perhaps more significantly a strategic energy partnership with the EU. (That seems to be a fancy way of saying the Nabucco pipeline, and makes me wonder how the Russians ever signed on to that.)
The Iranian reaction, after initial pro forma criticism, was apparently encouraging, which is somewhat surprising given that the proposal basically fails to address Tehran’s three red lines: no lifting of what it considers illegal UN sanctions (only a freeze of future ones), a uranium enrichment freeze as a pre-condition of negotiations, and the outsourcing of nuclear fuel enrichment. So it’s hard to see how this gets around the standoff. But it does seem to have accentuated the faultlines between Iran’s rival conservative factions. It’s noteworthy that Ahmadinejad’s spokesman initially dismissed the offer, while Ali Larijani, now Parliament speaker, announced it would receive careful consideration.
Meanwhile, it’s odd how the idea of a naval blockade of Iranian shipping in the Persian Gulf (scroll down to the fourth to last paragraph) has quietly assumed a place among our acceptable options. Does anyone really believe that a blockade, which is after all a belligerent act of war, wouldn’t immediately lead to the kinds of destabilizing incidents that would paralyzethe Gulf’s maritime traffic, and thereby global energy markets? Say what you will about the potentially counterproductive effects of a bombing run, but at least it doesn’t start out with the worst-case scenario.
Update: I saw Hampton’s post after this already went up. I agree, the carrots definitely seem stronger, although it could be a matter of cosmetics, and the sticks do, too, but there’s still some question as to whether or not they’re for real or not.