Contributed by Jubin Afshar Mar 14, 2007

Political initiatives to resolve the Iraqi crisis usually attract much attention. The International Baghdad Conference on10 March drew together Iraq’s regional and international partners for a one day conference. The spotlight however was more than anything else on the US delegates, Ambassadors David Satterfield and Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi.

Many analysts asked whether Iran’s seat at the table implied recognition of its regional importance. Whether US recognition of Iran’s role in the region would facilitate a drop in violence in Iraq? Whether direct negotiations at the regional conference could help end 28 years of animosity between Iran and the United Sates? Whether the meeting could affect the outcome of the Iranian nuclear file at the UN Security Council?

But all the above really boiled down to one simple, central question: Is Iran ready to earnestly negotiate with the US?

At least Zalmay Khalilzad hoped that would be the case, as he told reporters at the end of the conference he had spoken to the Iranians “directly and in the presence of others.” But Araghchi said: “We didn’t have any direct contact,” and the two sides had spoken to the conference in a collective manner. At least they both agreed that the talks were “constructive,” which turns out to be diplomatic language for politically inconsequential.

David Satterfield who is the State Department’s Iraq Policy Coordinator had said before the start of the conference, “If we are approached over orange juice by the Syrians or the Iranians to discuss an Iraq-related issue that is germane to this topic — stable, secure, peaceful, democratic Iraq — we are not going to turn and walk away.”

Robert Springborg, director of the London Middle East Institute, opined that the Americans were participating in the Baghdad conference only because they expected nothing to come from Iran and Syria so they could say: Yes, we told you that they have a negative role and won’t offer anything constructive.

If the US Administration really wanted to negotiate with Iran or if it wanted to use the opportunity to show Iran’s negative behavior, then it would have been to Iran’s benefit to actually negotiate with the US in this conference. Particularly since in recent months mounting accusations about Iran’s involvement in providing Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFP), training and funding for terrorists in Iraq had put the Iranian regime in a tight political corner.

The Iranians however closed their eyes to all the green lights and forsake the opportunity given them and shunned negotiations with the US.

As far as Iran is concerned, the conference proved that it was not going to negotiate. The Iranian posture, far from being a tactical decision, is a dogged principle of the current Iranian regime.

This Iranian policy is best articulated by the regime’s mouthpiece. The daily Kayhan, whose editor has the unique position of being a representative of the Supreme Leader and a top policy formulator in Tehran, refuted in its lead article on 7 March that not negotiating means acceptance of war. “It is not true that we have to either support war or negotiations, and actually both can be negated… Some negotiations are worse than war and some wars are the outcome of negotiations. The Camp David negotiations between Egypt and the Zionist regime were much more detrimental than the Ramazan or Yom Kipur war…” It goes on to conclude that, “Negotiations with America are a red line in Iran. If a war is destined then Iran’s negotiations with the US will not have any effect in controlling the situation and if a war is not destined then there is no need for negotiations.”

Not negotiating is not a moral principle for the mullahs. We recall that they secretly negotiated with the Reagan Administration and received some 4,000 TOW missiles to fend off Iraqi armor in the Iran-Iraq war. It is not a sign of Iran’s strength either. If the Iranian regime was really stable it would not fear negotiations and would engage in negotiation from a position of strength and gain the concessions it seeks. The Iranian regime is however so fragile that the same Kayhan editorial states: “Negotiations devise the satanic cycle of giving concessions and being destroyed and in the final analysis the enemy draws closer and closer to his goal.”

The US and several influential think tanks in the West have of course said as much and have beseeched the US Administration to give Iran the security guarantees it seemingly needs in order to entice it into negotiations. What they fail to note however is that this regime’s insecurity does not stem primarily from external but rather from domestic quandaries. The fact is that the Iranian regime has in the past three months in 2007 alone faced enormous domestic crises with teachers, students, women, and workers all restlessly demanding their rights in numerous strikes and demonstrations, and boldly challenging the regime in its suppressive rule. If the regime where to negotiate, it would only further embolden the Iranian people to seek their long sought political, social and human rights and would therefore destabilize the pillars of religious rule in Iran. This forms the essence of the regime’s inability to negotiate.

This article was originally published on:

Leave A Comment