Bush administration officials quietly confirm that the U.S. will accept what international law confirms: Iran and every country signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty has the right to enrich uranium for civilian energy purposes. This, following Bush’s contention that this provision in the treaty constitutes a “loophole,” with the intimation that the treaty (which has some provisions already ignored by the U.S.) ought to be rewritten! This, following Vice President Cheney’s repeated declarations that the Iranians are “already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy.”
The neocons have all along challenged Iran’s right to continue the nuclear program begun with U.S. support under the Shah. But now Condoleezza Rice is apparently specifically acknowledging that right. These are significant changes, which will, most likely, result in talks.
But even if Iran suspends enrichment—as it has before during negotiations with the Europeans, as a voluntary confidence-building measure, losing no face thereby—and even if Iranian delegates sit down at the table with Americans somewhat humbled by the mess in Iraq and persuaded reluctantly of the limits of U.S. power, there’s still a rocky road ahead. At any point the U.S. could announce that it has new evidence that contradicts Iran’s stated denial of a nuclear weapons program, terminate the talks—saying, “We’ve gone that last mile!”—and begin what would likely be either unilateral military moves against Iran, or ones conducted in tandem with Israel.
In a Fox interview just after the administration announced it would enter multilateral negotiations with Iran if it suspended its enrichment program, UN Ambassador John Bolton made it sound like a likely set-up. “The president’s made it very clear he wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear weapons program [sic] though peaceful and diplomatic means, but he’s also said that Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable,” he told his cherubic soul-mate, salivating warmonger Neil Cavuto.
Cavuto: But unacceptable means that if it keeps going on you’re going to do something about it . . .
Bolton: No option is taken off the table.
Cavuto: Military as well?
Cavuto: Unilateral military action?
Bolton: Secretary Rice made that point . . . that’s why . . .
Cavuto: That we would act alone if we had to?
Bolton: That’s why he says no option is taken off the table. But it’s also why the president has reached out to [Russian] President Putin and other leaders in the past couple of days to say, “We’re making a significant step here” — that will be criticized by many of the president’s staunchest supporters here at home, but he’s taking this step to show strength and American leadership. He’s doing it to say “We gave Iran this last chance to show they are serious when they say ‘We don’t want nuclear weapons.'” This is “put up or shut up” time for Iran.
Among the “staunchest supporters” of Bush’s bellicose policies is of course the notorious former head of the Defense Policy Board who retains strong ties to the neocons surrounding Cheney who have dominated foreign policy to date. Addressing a sympathetic audience at the AIPAC conference in April Richard Perle opined that “The attack [on Iran] would be over before anybody knew what had happened,” adding that a dozen B-2 bombers could solve the problem overnight.
Bolton’s comment about criticism of the decision may hint at the disappointment felt by Cheney’s staff as well as Bolton himself, who’s been chomping at the bit to attack Syria and Iran. They may all resent Condi’s growing grip on foreign policy and the relative decline in the neocons’ power. The changing U.S. position causes some hope that the war plans already well advanced will remain on hold and maybe even be shelved, to the great relief of the top brass and most rational people. But as the diplomatic dance proceeds, one must avoid delusional optimism.
Perhaps there’s a relationship between the timing of the Iraqi and the Washington Post’s reporting of a strategic retreat from an attack on Iran. It allows the neocons to save some face, surely. Their first project, the imposition of Pax Americana on Afghanistan, has in this fifth year since the fall of Kabul produced anti-American rioting in the capital, reestablishment of Taliban control over the south, record opium harvests, and one U.S. GI death every four days. The second, the acquisition of control over Iraq, has failed miserably. While a college campus-sized “embassy”-the largest in the world—was rising in the heart of Baghdad (a fortress to shelter the world’s largest diplomatic mission from the wrath of a people enraged by the Abu Ghraibs, Hadithas, and daily abuses, humiliations and intolerable inconveniences caused by a criminal invasion), 1,400 civilians were killed by “sectarian violence” under the old regime in Baghdad. That’s just in Baghdad, and just in May alone! Failure, failure, failure.
And then, a message from Russia and China (and the world in general), delivered through Condi to Bush: We won’t play along with your game, designed to legitimate your planned attack on Iran. We won’t pass your resolution in the Security Council. Bush reportedly winced as his Secretary of State recommended the first U.S.-Iranian negotiations in 27 years. Hadn’t Cheney said, “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it”?
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org