US made an offer Iran can only refuse
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - Even before Iran gave its formal counter-offer to the permanent-five-plus-one countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China plus Germany) on Tuesday, the administration of US George W Bush had already begun the process of organizing sanctions against Iran.
Washington had already held a conference call on sanctions on Sunday with French, German and British officials, the Washington Post reported.
In Tehran on Tuesday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, delivered the official response to an international package to curb Tehran's nuclear program and suggested that Iran was prepared for "serious talks" with the six countries that extended the offer.
Details of Iran's 23-page written response have not been released, but they crucially are expected to confirm that Iran is not prepared to suspend uranium-enrichment activities without comprehensive security guarantees, especially from the US, in return.
The US has never been prepared to give such guarantees, and thus ends what appeared on the surface to be a genuine multilateral initiative for negotiations with Iran on the terms under which it would give up its nuclear program.
US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was reported to have said that his country would study the Iranian response "carefully", adding that "if it doesn't meet with the terms set by the Security Council, we will proceed to economic sanctions".
The history of the international proposal shows that the Bush administration was determined from the beginning that it would fail, so that it could bring to a halt a multilateral diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program that the hardliners in the administration had always found a hindrance to their policy.
Britain, France and Germany (European Union Three - EU-3), which had begun negotiations with Tehran on the nuclear issue in October 2003, had concluded very early that Iran's security concerns would have to be central to any agreement. It has been generally forgotten that the November 14, 2004, Paris Agreement between the EU and Iran included an assurance by the EU-3 that the "long-term agreement" they pledged to reach would "provide ... firm commitments on security issues".
The EU-3 had tried in vain to get the Bush administration to support their diplomatic efforts with Tehran by authorizing the inclusion of security guarantees in a proposal they were working on last summer. In a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in July 2005, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy referred to the need to "make sure ... that we discuss with [the Iranians] the security of their country. And for this, we shall need the United States ..."
The EU-3 and the Bush administration agreed that the permanent-five-plus-one proposal would demand that Iran make three concessions to avoid UN Security Council sanctions and to begin negotiations on an agreement with positive incentives: the indefinite suspension of its enrichment program, agreement to resolve all the outstanding concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and resumption of full implementation of the Additional Protocol under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for very tight monitoring of all suspected nuclear sites by the IAEA.
That meant that Tehran would have had to give up its major bargaining chips before the negotiations even began. The Europeans wanted security guarantees from Washington to be part of the deal. Douste-Blazy said on May 8 that if Iran cooperated, it could be rewarded with what he called an "ambitious package" in several economic domains as well as in "the security domain".
The EU-3 draft proposal, which was leaked to ABC (American Broadcasting Co) News and posted on its website, included a formula that fell short of an explicit guarantee. However, it did offer "support for an inter-governmental forum, including countries of the region and other interested countries, to promote dialogue and cooperation on security issues in the Persian Gulf, with the aim of establishing regional security arrangements and a cooperative relationship on regional security arrangements including guarantees for territorial integrity and political sovereignty".
That convoluted language suggested there was a way for Iran's security to be guaranteed by the United States. But the problem was that it was still subject to a US veto. In any case, as Steven R Weisman of the New York Times reported on May 19, the Bush administration rejected any reference to a regional security framework in which Iran could participate.
Rice denied on Fox News on May 21 that the US was being "asked about security guarantees", but that was deliberately misleading. As a European diplomat explained to Reuters on May 20, the only reason the Europeans had not used the term "security guarantees" in their draft was that "Washington is against giving Iran assurances that it will not be attacked".
In light of these news reports, the public comment by Iran's UN Ambassador Javad Zarif on May 27 is particularly revealing. Zarif declared that the incentive package "needs to deal with issues that are fundamental to the resolution" of the problem. "The solution has to take into consideration Iranian concerns."
Zarif seems to have been saying that Iran wanted to get something of comparable importance for giving up its bargaining chips in advance and discussing the renunciation of enrichment altogether. That statement, which departed from Iran's usual emphasis on its right to nuclear technology under the NPT, suggested that Tehran was at least open to the possibility of a "grand bargain" with Washington, such as the one it had outlined in a secret proposal to the Bush administration in April 2003.
The partners of the US made one more effort to persuade Rice to reconsider the US position at their final meeting in Vienna on June 1 to reach agreement on a proposal. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed in a talk with Russian media the following day, the issue of security guarantees for Iran was raised by the negotiating partners of the US at that meeting.
But the Bush administration again rebuffed the idea of offering positive security incentives to Iran. In the final text of the proposal, the European scheme for a regional security system was reduced to an anodyne reference to a "conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues".
The Europeans, Russians and Chinese knew this outcome doomed the entire exercise to failure. In the end, only the US could offer the incentives needed to make a bargain attractive to Iran. A European official who had been involved in the discussions was quoted in a June 1 Reuters story as saying, "We have neither big enough carrots nor big enough sticks to persuade the Iranians, if they are open to persuasion at all."
Despite the desire of other members of the 5+1 for a genuine diplomatic offer to Iran that could possibly lead to an agreement on its nuclear program, the Bush administration's intention was just the opposite.
Bush's objective was to free his administration of the constraint of multilateral diplomacy. The administration evidently reckoned that once the Iranians had rejected the formal offer, the US would be free to take whatever actions it might choose, including a military strike against Iran. Thus the June 5 proposal, with its implicit contempt for Iran's security interests, reflected the degree to which the US administration has anchored its policy toward Iran in its option to use force.
As Washington now seeks to the clear the way for the next phase of its confrontation with Iran, Bush is framing the issue as one of Iranian defiance of the Security Council, rather than US refusal to deal seriously with a central issue in the negotiations. "There must consequences if people thumb their noses at the United Nations Security Council," Bush said on Monday.
If the EU-3, Russia and China allow Bush to get away with that highly distorted version of what happened, the world will have taken another step closer to general war in the Middle East.
Gareth Porter is a historian and national-security policy analyst. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.