Let's Hope For Haggling In Instanbul, Not Poker

Two officially unofficial leaks from the Obama administration, published in the Washington Post yesterday and New York Times today respectively, have laid out the White House’s position as it heads for talks between the P5+1 and Iran in Instanbul next Friday.

In the first report, the message was the universal opening gambit of police officers talking to suspects: we know more than you think we do.

CIA stealth drones scoured dozens of sites throughout Iran, making hundreds of passes over suspicious facilities, before a version of the RQ-170 crashed inside Iran’s borders in December. The surveillance has been part of what current and former U.S. officials describe as an intelligence surge that is aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and that has been gaining momentum since the final years of George W. Bush’s administration.

The effort has included ramped-up eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, formation of an Iran task force among satellite-imagery analysts and an expanded network of spies, current and former U.S. officials said.

At a time of renewed debate over whether stopping Iran might require military strikes, the expanded intelligence collection has reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb, officials said.

As Scott Lucas points out, it’s meant to reassure domestic hawks and doves that the White House knows what it’s doing, that there will be neither a mistaken rush to war nor a delay that lets Iran go nuclear, while telling Tehran that it can’t “stall on nuclear talks and get away with deviousness”.

The second lays out what I sincerely hope is the American opening position for a round of serious haggling, rather than a poker-style “read ’em and weep”.

The Obama administration and its European allies plan to open new negotiations with Iran by demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of a recently completed nuclear facility deep under a mountain, according to American and European diplomats.

They are also calling for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country, the diplomats said.

That negotiating position will be the opening move in what President Obama has called Iran’s ”œlast chance” to resolve its nuclear confrontation with the United Nations and the West diplomatically. The hard-line approach would require the country’s military leadership to give up the Fordo enrichment plant outside the holy city of Qum, and with it a huge investment in the one facility that is most hardened against airstrikes.

…”œWe have no idea how the Iranians will react,” one senior administration official said. ”œWe probably won’t know after the first meeting.”

…While opening bids in international negotiations are often designed to set a high bar, as a political matter American and European officials say they cannot imagine agreeing to any outcome that leaves Iran with a stockpile of fuel, enriched to 20 percent purity, that could be converted to bomb grade in a matter of months.

Actually, we already have the Iranians’ first reaction:

An Iranian official rejected any demand that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and close the Fordow site.

“We see no justification for such a request from the P5+1,” the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, told the Iranian student news agency.

There’s absolutely no way, to my mind, that Iran will agree to diosmantle Fordow, it’s most hardened facility. It may well agree to re-purposing the facility towards 3.5% enrichment, however. And I think it will agree to giving up enriching to 20% itself and give up its stockpile of MEU if it has ironclad guarantees of a supply of same via some IAEA overseen system. That, after all, is pretty much the bones of the deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil in 2010 that Obama privately told Brazil’s Lula he was all for before he publicly nixxed it.

It’s that 2010 double-talk that has me worried. If Obama thinks he’s going in there with a full house, prepared to play Texas Hold’em in high old Bush style, then negotiations will fail. This isn’t only Iran’s “last chance’ however, it’s probably the world’s last chance to avoid another incredibly damaging war in the Middle East and Obama certainly realizes that. Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute in London thinks haggling is what’s in store: “the US can always make any agreement consistent with that policy position by labeling it ‘interim’, If Obama could halt 20% clock in some fashion, and kick the broader issue of enrichment to post-election, surely he’d take it” he told me today.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

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  • …on Fordow. I don’t see that they can dismantle it immediately, but that is very likely where things need ultimately to move to. To keep it would require a high level of trust and enhanced safeguards, and I don’t see the former coming into being over any time scale less than a decade in length. They may move on the latter, but again they can’t do it super quickly. Best alternative is to foot drag on progress at Fordow until they can put the pieces in place. They keep escalating on it and producing a significant amount of 20% material (the level they have produced is about the same as the original deal with Argentina from back in the late 80’s) and it’s going to end up being viewed as a bomb factory.

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

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