7/16/2008  Radio France Internationale - Analysis US-Iran Nuclear Negotiations
Exhausting other Options, Bush Administration turns to Diplomacy
RFI: The United Status surprised many around the world when it announced that a high level official of the US State Department will for the first time attend international negotiations with Iran this coming weekend.

The Under Secretary of State William Burns will attend, along with top European Union diplomat Javier Solana, a planned meeting with the principal Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili Saturday in Geneva.

The objective of these contacts, other participants include France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia and China, is that Iran abandon its nuclear program which the West charges is for making atomic weapons.

Until now Washington rejected directly attending talks while Iran engaged in uranium enrichment. The participation of Burns represents a change. A change which has diverse explanations, according to Grant Smith, Director of the IRmep, a center of independent analysis headquartered in Washington.

Grant F. Smith: Yes, it is a change in the Bush administration's position, which until now was that suspension of uranium enrichment the Iran's price of admission to direct negotiations.

Iran has not done that, obviously, but neither is there much hard evidence that Iran is enriching to levels sufficient for nuclear arms. So the Bush administration is making a U-turn towards what appears to be genuine diplomacy.

RFI: How large and significant is this change. Does it represent a change in policy or a change in White House strategy?

Grant Smith: It is a forced change. We've seen Iran become very explicit about responding to threats: they will not accept a limited attack or an air raid, without burning down the entire region. They are now militarilly committed to suspending all traffic in the Gulf. So it is now very clear that there is no way to incrementally raise the pressure on Iran with limited military strikes.

So Bush has two real options. Authorize a massive military attack comprised of forces much larger than he committed to Iraq, or return to the negotiating table. At this moment, they are opening maneuvering room, again for the first time, for the diplomatic option. It is because they have no other options. If they don't want to see petroleum reach a thousand dollars per barrel and see refining and transport infrastructure in the Gulf destroyed then they basically must sit down and talk.

RFI: But the United States has said that the Under Secretary of State, William Burns, is not going to participate in this as a negotiator or meet separately with the Iranian representative.

So can we really call this a negotiation?

Grant Smith: If he is at the same table with Saeed Jalili, the Iranian negotiator, it doesn't matter if they speak directly. Although I think that they will, at some point, talk directly. The administration can say what it wants, but accepting negotiations, only to say "we're not going to talk to the Iranians" is just trying to save face and maintain a little dignity in the midst of a painfully public reversal.

I think we can now count on direct high level communications on this subject.

RFI: These talks are occurring at a time when rumors are circulating that in exchange for Iran freezing enrichment the US will drop sanctions against Iran.

Is that possible?

Grant Smith: Sure, it's entirely possible. Look at the history of Nixon and Kissinger opening relations with China. Many times there are public moves that partially mask intense private diplomatic dealings. It is perfectly rational to think there are negotiations because as we've heard, the rumors include reopening a facility, an office, or some type of presence for US diplomats in Iran. I think it is perfectly logical to assume, given the level of crisis, that private diplomatic initiatives have already been advanced.

RFI: And lastly do you think the Bush administration's changing posture has anything to do with the approaching presidential elections next November?

Grant Smith: The Bush administration simply can't pass such an immense and festering question mark on to the next administration. They have to make sure the issue is both more manageable and moving in a positive direction. They can't simply pass what is almost an undeclared war on to the next President. They have to be more reasonable. They have to be more responsible than that for the sake of the elections.
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