BUOYED by their modest electoral success last month, critics of
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's provocative foreign policy were
preparing to launch a series of attacks on him in the Islamic Majlis,
Iran's ersatz parliament. But then Ahmadinejad got an unexpected boost
from Barack Obama.
Ali Larijani, Iran's former nuclear negotiator and now a Majlis member,
was arguing that the Islamic Republic would pay a heavy price for
Ahmadinejad's rejection of three UN Security Council resolutions on
nukes. Then the likely Democratic presidential nominee stepped in.
Obama announced that, if elected, he wouldn't
ask Iran to comply with UN resolutions as a precondition for direct
talks with Ahmadinejad: "Preconditions, as it applies to a country like
Iran, for example, was a term of art. Because this administration has
been very clear that it will not have direct negotiations with Iran
until Iran has met preconditions that are essentially what Iran views,
and many other observers would view, as the subject of the
negotiations; for example, their nuclear program."
without preconditions" would require America to ignore three unanimous
Security Council resolutions. Before starting his unconditional talks,
would Obama present a new resolution at the Security Council to cancel
the three that Ahmadinejad doesn't like? Or would the new US president
act in defiance of the United Nations - further weakening the Security
President Bush didn't set the
preconditions that Obama promises to ignore. They were agreed upon
after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was in
violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Acting in accordance
with its charter, the IAEA referred the issue to the Security Council.
Dismissing the preconditions as irrelevant would mean snubbing
America's European allies plus Russia and China, all of whom
participated in drafting and approving the resolutions that Ahmadinejad
Such a move would make a mockery of multilateral
diplomacy - indeed, would ignore such diplomacy in exactly the way that
critics claim the Bush administration has.
Obama clearly hasn't asked British Prime Minister Gordon Brown,
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy
what they think of the United States' suddenly changing course and granting Ahmadinejad's key demand in advance.
Maybe Obama hasn't been properly briefed about the "preconditions" he
gets so worked up about. He cites Iran's "nuclear program" as a
precondition. Wrong: No one has asked, or could ask, Iran to stop its
nuclear program - period. On the contrary, Iran's participation in in
the Non-Proliferation Treaty gives it the right to seek help from other
signatories, including the US, to access the latest technology in
developing its nuclear industry - for peaceful purposes.
The Security Council isn't asking the Islamic Republic to do something
dishonorable, humiliating or illegal. All it's asking Ahmadinejad to do
is to stop cheating - something the Islamic Republic itself has
admitted it has done for 18 years. The Security Council has invited
Iran to "suspend" - not even to scrap - a uranium-enrichment program
clearly destined for making bombs, in violation of the NPT.
Iran has not a single nuclear-power station and thus doesn't need
enriched uranium - except for making bombs. Its sole nuclear plant is
scheduled to be finished by the end of 2009. But that can't use the
type of uranium that Iran is enriching; the station requires fuel of a
different "formula," supplied by Russia, which is building the project,
for the next 10 years. (And the Russians have offered to provide fuel
for the plant's entire lifetime of 37 years.)
precondition asks Tehran to explain why it is building a heavy-water
plant at Arak - when it has absolutely no plans for plutonium-based
nuclear-power stations. The Arak plant's only imaginable use is to produce material for nuclear warheads.
Finally, the IAEA and the Security Council are asking Tehran to allow
international inspectors access to all sites related to the nuclear
project - access that Iran is obliged to provide under the NPT.
In short, the minimum show of goodwill on Ahmadinejad's part would be to comply with the UN resolutions before he goes to the White House for talks with President Obama on other issues.
Obama's words on "preconditions" have helped ease domestic pressure on
Ahmadinejad to comply with the United Nations and the IAEA. The Iranian
president is telling his domestic critics to shut up until after the US
election. Why, after all, should he make concessions that a putative
President Obama has already dismissed as unnecessary?