Bush Ensured Iran Offer
Would Be Rejected

Even before Iran gave its formal counteroffer to ambassadors of the P5+1 countries (the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) Tuesday, the George W. Bush administration had already begun the process of organizing sanctions against Iran.

Washington had already held a conference call on sanctions Sunday with French, German, and British officials, the Washington Post reported.

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. But the history of that P5+1 proposal shows that the Bush administration was determined from the beginning that it would fail, and thus bring to a halt 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, which had begun negotiations with Tehran on the nuclear issue in October 2003, had concluded very early on that Iran’s security concerns would have to be central to any agreement. It has been generally forgotten that the Nov. 14, 2004, Paris Agreement between the EU and Iran included an assurance by the three European states that the “long-term agreement” they pledged to reach would “provide … firm commitments on security issues.”

The European three 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 U.S. 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 European 3 and the Bush administration agreed that the P5+1 proposal would demand that Iran make three concessions to avoid 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, which calls for very tight monitoring of all suspected nuclear sites by the IAEA.

That meant that Tehran would have 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 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 European 3 draft proposal, which was leaked to ABC News and posted on its Web site, included a formula that fell short of an explicit guarantee. However, it did offer “support for an intergovernmental 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 U.S. 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 May 21 that the United States 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 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 Nonproliferation Treaty, 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 United States in the P5+1 made one more effort to convince Rice to reconsider the U.S. position at their final meeting in Vienna 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 U.S. 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 United States 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 P5+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 the administration of the constraint of multilateral diplomacy. The administration evidently reckoned that, once the Iranians had rejected the formal offer from the P5+1, it 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 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 U.S. 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 Monday.

If the European 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.

(Inter Press Service)

Read more by Gareth Porter

Author: Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in
U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils
of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam
, was
published in 2006.