27 January, 2011
To Beat or Not to Beat – that is the question asked by the grandmasters of world diplomacy as the fresh round of talks between Tehran and six world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, conducted on the shores of the Bosporus on January 21 and 22, brought the sides nowhere, setting the stage for the new indefinite period of tug-of-war and new confrontation.
Those who are running out of patience faced with Iran’s stubborn reluctance to suspend uranium enrichment are calling, in Shakespearean language, "to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them”. They, however, hardly have a notion of how this Caspian "sea of troubles” can be controlled. "To beat” Iran, fortunately not in a battleground yet, but with sanctions that bite, they talk of more isolation, while there are many conflicting reports on the effectiveness of a "tightening the screws” policy.
Let me share with you some personal experience on the issue. Istanbul talks coincided with surprise visit to Moscow of Ali Asgar Soltanieh, Iranian envoy to the United Nations and other international organization – a high-ranking diplomat, who, I presume, is at present the third quoted Tehran official in the world after President Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Salehi.
Explaining the purpose of his trip, Mr. Soltanieh told me that he had come to Moscow "to give Russian writers, intellectuals, experts and media” first-hand information on how things stand with the Iranian nuclear program – "to show the other side of the coin,” to use his own words. "We believe they would be able to convey our message to the policy-makers here,” he said.
I conducted a 35-minute interview with Mr. Soltanie for Kommersant daily on the premises of the Iranian Embassy in Moscow and I was really impressed by his quick wit and natural charm. I say this without a shade of irony – unlike regular tight-lipped Iranian officials who make foreign journalists yawn, he was very flexible, responsive and emotional, as well as attentive to the questions and well-prepared to defend his position. So all in all, I was really impressed by the interview and left the Iranian Embassy with a feeling that Mr. Soltanie is a great diplomat and a great personality.
Yet, no matter how much I liked the Iranian guest, I cannot say that I equally liked what he said.
His basic idea was that under no condition would Iran ever comply with the UN Security Council’s resolutions calling for it to suspend uranium enrichment – the core issue behind the eight-year-old Iranian nuclear crisis. "We were cheated many times by the Americans and the French in the past and didn’t get the fuel we wanted. So at one point we decided that enough is enough and we would produce fuel of our own. We would go ahead with our enrichment program. No sanctions and other punitive measures, no UN resolutions would stop us,” he declared. "They told us that we would not be able to do it, but we did it,” he added with a disarming smile.
When Mr. Soltanie lashed out at the UN Security Council for the fourth or fifth time, calling its decisions "not legally binding” and insisted that the United Nations has already lost its credibility and found itself in a "historic” crisis, I took the risk of interrupting him. "Mr. Soltanie, don’t you think that it sounds odd, when a high-profile diplomat like you, Ambassador to the United Nations, says that the United Nations Security Council has no more credibility? It might be an imperfect mechanism, I agree, some may like its resolutions and others may not, but no better mechanism of dealing with international crises in the post-War world than the United Nations has yet evolved. So every responsible nation should respect UN decisions or the world would slide into the lawlessness and anarchy,” I argued.
Do you know what he told me? "In the Security Council it was all orchestrated by America and the E3 – Britain, France and Germany. Today they should have enough courage to come up and say, ‘We’ve made a big mistake, the language of the resolutions was totally wrong.’”
I thought that such stand would be a lavish gift to international hawks, who insist today that talking to Tehran is a waste of precious time which brings the nuclear bomb closer to completion, that Iran needs more pressure and isolation with all options on the table – a euphemism used in world diplomacy to describe a military strike.
In the face of "outrageous fortune”, Irangame is getting more and more dangerous.