The New York Times reports (and the White House denies) that “The United States and Iran have agreed for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.”
Two of the three assertions in that lead paragraph are demonstrably false. One-on-one negotiations have been going on for years (most recently, according to my friend “Reza Kahlili,” in Doha, where, he was told, Valerie Jarrett and other American officials recently traveled for the latest talks). The only news here is that the talks would no longer be secret. And the notion that only diplomacy can avert “a military strike on Iran” is fanciful. There are at least two other ways: sanctions may compel the regime to stop its nuclear weapons program, or the Iranian people may find a way to overthrow the regime, thereby (perhaps, at least) rendering military action unnecessary.
I rather suspect that you don’t have to do anything to avoid an American military strike on Iran. I can’t imagine an Obama administration authorizing a military attack. An administration that can barely bring itself to fly air cover in Libya, and can’t bring itself to take any serious action in Syria, strikes me as very unlikely to unleash our armed forces against the mullahs.
As for the claim that Iran has agreed to talks, even that seems problematic, as the Times admits further down in its story: “American officials said they were uncertain whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had signed off on the effort.” If there is no approval from the supreme leader, there is no agreement at all.
The Times’ journalists — Helene Cooper and Mark Lander — then treat us to an attempt to calculate the political significance of their story, but that is as foggy as the report itself. Maybe it would help Obama claim some sort of breakthrough. On the other hand, maybe it would leave him open to the charge that Iran is using him to stall for time. Who knows? They quote America’s favorite negotiator, Dennis Ross, who is of course all for the talks, and even has a negotiating strategy all ready. And they quote Nicholas Burns, who is also supportive.
This last is a bit curious, since Burns, who was Condoleezza Rice’s top negotiator with the Iranians, actually believed he had negotiated a “grand bargain” with the Iranians in 2006. The Iranians would suspend nuclear enrichment and we would lift sanctions. Except that the Iranians failed to show up for the signing ceremony at the United Nations, and Rice and Burns sat in New York waiting for the Iranian airplane to take off from Tehran. Apparently Mr.Burns didn’t learn the obvious lesson.