Wednesday, February 06, 2013

6-Feb-13: Listen - but really listen - to the Iranians. They deserve that courtesy

Baroness Ashton of the EU; Jalili of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Talking is good. Listening is better. [Image Source]
Most of us will agree it's human nature to be optimistic. The realities of life are challenging enough that thinking about worse outcomes than the present can be a self-limiting and unrewarding way to operate. So when it's reported that "Iran nuclear talks set for February 26", as Reuters did on Monday, you want to believe something good is going to come from it.

Politicians and analysts in the parts of the world where such discussions are conducted freely and out in the open have been saying for years that while oil-soaked Iran insists it wants nuclear technology in order to make electricity, it is really all about making weapons of mass destruction. The United States and its allies have imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran to improve the chances of a result in which Iran's nuclear activities are curbed and monitored.

The EU's head of foreign policy is Catherine Ashton. She almost always sounds upbeat and optimistic about getting to an understanding with Iran. On Monday, her spokesperson said
she hoped to make progress in allaying concerns about a program Iran denies has a military purpose.
Then yesterday's Ashton quote was
"She hopes that the talks will be productive and that concrete progress can be made towards a negotiated solution to meet the international community's concerns about the Iranian nuclear program."
Hope is good. We hope she is right. We hope she succeeds.

Then there's a different view that says stop hoping, start listening, and when you hear what the Iranians are saying out of their own mouths, think again and fast about what to do next.

There's a fine example of that in a well-named Wall Street Journal op ed from a couple of days ago, "Take Iran at Its Word: Diplomats still think the answer to the nuclear standoff is to talk to Tehran. Perhaps because they don't believe what the regime says", online here. It's written by Douglas Murray of the London-based Henry Jackson Society.

Some extracts - but really, the whole, well-argued piece should be getting the widest attention.
  • Anyone paying attention to the words and actions emanating from Tehran over the last few years should be easily convinced that anything and everything must be done to stop the Iranian regime from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Yet even now, the international community appears unwilling to declare this rogue regime an enemy, nor to do anything—even by way of sanctions or embargoes—to stop them...
  • How can it be, at this time and at this stage, that governments and publics are still not dealing with this issue with anything approaching appropriate seriousness? Our growing inability to focus on any epochal concern in a Twittering age is certainly one reason. But another, which is too little dwelt upon, is the extraordinary campaign of lies, obfuscation and casuistry that certain politicians, academics and commentators have over the course of a decade mounted so strenuously.
  • Those with ears to hear might hear Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promise to "wipe Israel of the map" or "erase Israel from the page of time." But there remains a strange chorus who try to tell us otherwise...
  • Anytime this fact is even mentioned, some columnist, professor or radical politician can be heard saying that the Iranian president meant no such thing. Sometimes you can publicly walk them through the translation, and they will shift their argument. "Well," they say, "he doesn't mean it like that..."
  • On occasion, for variety's sake, one is informed that in any case, Ahmadinejad is merely the president and as such is not taken seriously or has no political power. When it is pointed out that even if he had no power, the Supreme Leader certainly does, and that Ali Khamenei has said exactly the same things over many years, the game of dissembling goes on. None of this might matter if it weren't also for the Iranian regime's actions. 
  • For a decade we have witnessed a high-profile game of evasion by the mullahs. Uranium enrichment sites have been closed to inspectors, then re-opened. Inspections have been promised, deferred, derailed and started again. One implied or explicit red line after another has been announced, broken through and subsequently redrawn...
  • Iran's arming and funding of terrorist proxies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, are not the inventions of right-wing warmongers. They are facts, and ones that the people of Lebanon and Syria are having to live and die with.
  • But the even more pressing reason to prevent an Iranian bomb, at all available and necessary costs, was illustrated by one of our guests on Wednesday. In his remarks, Rafael Bardaji, a former national security advisor to the Spanish prime minister, relayed his tale of meeting with Khamenei some years back. Summoned to breakfast while on a visit to Iran, the Spanish guests decided to ask an ice-breaking question: Within the apparently complex power structure of contemporary Iran, what was the Supreme Leader's job? "My job," Khamenei replied, "is to set Israel on fire."
  • They say it. They mean it. Yet still the world refuses to take them at their word. Shame on them or shame on us?

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