WOULD you take an offer if you knew that by refusing it you'd get a better one?
Tehran's answer to the latest "generous package" offered to end its uranium-enrichment program is an emphatic "No."
The offer comes from the Six Powers, the UN Security Council's five
permanent members plus Germany; it was shaped in London in days of hard
bargaining between the United States and the European Union on one side
and Russia and China on the other.
Yet President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad is already ignoring three Security Council resolutions and
swallowing the bitter medicine of sanctions. And he has reason to
believe that time is on his side.
He knows America will have a
new president in nine months; the "mad Bush" will be gone. Sen. Barack
Obama has said he'd invite Ahmadinejad for unconditional talks,
ignoring UN resolutions that call on Tehran to stop uranium enrichment.
So why pay now what one may not have to pay tomorrow?
Sen. John McCain wins the White House, he'd need time before he has his
team in place and is capable of taking any significant action against
Then, too, Ahmadinejad himself must seek reelection next year - and it won't be easy.
Iran's economy is suffering double-digit inflation, soaring
unemployment and deepening structural fissures. "Supreme Guide" Ali
Khamenei and the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
may well decide to blame it all on Ahmadinejad and ditch him in favor
of another Guard officer.
Ahmadinejad's main hope for winning
a second term lies in perpetuating the fiction that he's fighting to
preserve Iran's independence against predatory powers bent on dictating
to weaker nations. He'd be courting political suicide if he backed down
He has other reason to play for time.
Russia has a new president, with Vladimir Putin becoming prime
minister. The new arrangement in Moscow needs time to settle and be
tested. The last thing the Putin-Medvedev tandem wants is a hot crisis
With the summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese
don't want anything to distract attention from their big show, least of
all another war in the Mideast, which supplies 70 percent of their oil.
Britain is heading for a general election in '09, which Labor
now looks likely to lose. The German coalition is showing fissures that
could force an election next year.
And this new "package" is
far more generous than anything that his predecessor as president,
Mullah Muhammad Khatami, could have imagined. In 2003, Khatami agreed
to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of gifts. He
kept his end of the bargain for two years but received nothing.
As soon as Ahmadinejad resumed enrichment, the Six Powers rushed to him
with gifts. Each time he's hardened his position, he's gotten an even
So why say yes now when he knows that in a year's time, hopefully on the eve of his election campaign, he might get an even better offer?
The Six Powers are clearly unable to agree on a diagnosis of the
problem. The British wanted the London statement to refer to Iran's
nuclear program as "a threat China refused, insisting the dispute was
"a technical one."
In other words, while the British and
Americans think Ahmadinejad wants the atomic bomb for mischief, the
Chinese and, presumably, the Russians see the whole thing as no more
worrying than a case of bad plumbing.
This failure to agree
produced the "Iranian nuclear crisis" in the first place, and it will
prevent its resolution. Ahmadinejad's best bet is to continue his
If Iran is no threat to anyone, where's the
problem? Uranium enrichment is perfectly legal, something that the Six
Powers, among others, have been doing for decades.
If, on the
other hand, Iran is a threat, one should ask why before trying to do
anything about it. This is precisely the debate, however, that the Six
Powers haven't succeeded in holding among themselves.