The Odd Parallels in U.S.-Iran Nuclear Positions

We still don’t know the substance of Iran’s response to the proposal for multilateral enrichment cooperation on its experimental reactor. But this, from the NY Times, jumped out at me:

. . . Some of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s conservative rivals have alreadycriticized the plan as a risky concession to the West, and on Thursday,the opposition leader Mir-Hussein Moussavi joined them, suggesting thatany response to the plan would have negative consequences for Iran.

“Ifthey are put in place, all the efforts of thousands of scientists willgo to the wind,” Mr. Moussavi said of the proposed plan’s conditions,according to opposition Web sites. “If they are not put in place, thefoundations will be laid for wide-ranging sanctions against Iran, andthis is the result of a confrontational stance in foreign policy andthe neglect of national interests and principles.”

Moussavi’s remarks are significant for three reasons. First, they once again illustrate the degree to which the Iranian enrichment program enjoys broad, consensus support across the political spectrum. So a change in government in Tehran does not represent a magic bullet for resolving the standoff.

Second, they also reveal the degree to which sanctions are taken seriously in Iran by those able to speak freely about them, no matter how much they are minimized by official Iranian declarations or U.S.-based skeptics.

Third, and perhaps most significant, however, is the way in which Moussavi’sassessment of the Iranian negotiating position mirrors anyclear-sighted assessment of the Western negotiating position: Because of errors made by the previous administration, there areno good options.

To my mind, that kind of pessimism is the kiss of death to negotiations if it is limited to one side of the bargaining table. But the fact that the feeling is mutual strikes me as very good news, because it makes it more likely that both sides will agree to some sort of sub-optimal compromise. The tricky part here, though, is that, unlike in Washington, the previous administration in Tehran also happens to be the current one.

I have a hunch that the Iranians have largely achieved their minimal goals with their nuclear program, even if they would prefer to get a bit further down the road to a latent nuclear capacity. As for the U.S., the Iranians are well past our objective of zero enrichment, but not past our red line, and still in a manageable discomfort zone.

There are the makings of a deal there. But it depends on whether the Iranians are willing to forego the game of chicken represented by ignoring the West’s concerns for transparency and confidence-building, and whether the West is willing to forego the impotent and unrealistic demand that Iran accept a 2004-vintage deal in 2009.

More World Politics Review