Iran Accepted Pickering's Enrichment Proposal: Did Anyone Notice?

On Saturday, the Boston Globe ran an interview by Farah Stockman with Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. This itself is noteworthy: those who believe that the United States should pursue serious diplomacy with Iran might, presumably, wish to pay some attention to the words of the man selected by the Iranian government to represent it to the world. So I think Farah Stockman and the Boston Globe deserve some credit for providing an opportunity for Mr. Khazaee to make his case to the American newspaper-reading public, even if it was Saturday that they chose to run it.

Khazaee noted that the right and ability to enrich uranium has "become an issue of national pride" in Iran, and asserted that regardless of what sanctions are imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council, and regardless of what incentives Iran is offered in talks, "the Iranian people will not accept suspension" of Iran's enrichment program. These are re-statements of long-held Iranian positions.

But this paragraph made me sit up in my chair:

The ambassador said his country would not suspend its own enrichment program, but would consider establishing an internationally owned consortium inside Iran that could produce nuclear fuel with Iranian participation. Iran's May 13 proposal referred to the idea, but gave no details.

As the Boston Globe should have noted, this appears to reference a proposal advanced most recently in the US by former US Ambassador Thomas Pickering, William Luers, and Jim Walsh in the March 20, 2008 issue of the New York Review of Books. Pickering, Luers, and Walsh wrote:

We propose that Iran's efforts to produce enriched uranium and other related nuclear activities be conducted on a multilateral basis, that is to say jointly managed and operated on Iranian soil by a consortium including Iran and other governments. This proposal provides a realistic, workable solution to the US-Iranian nuclear standoff. Turning Iran's sensitive nuclear activities into a multinational program will reduce the risk of proliferation and create the basis for a broader discussion not only of our disagreements but of our common interests as well.

If you don't know who Tom Pickering is, let me assure you that he is no pinko appeaser. Nor is he visiting assistant lecturer in thumb-sucking at St. Martha's on the Swamp. Pickering was the Reagan Administration's Ambassador to El Salvador during the U.S.-sponsored "air war" in 1984-5. He was Reagan's Ambassador to Israel when Israel was crushing the first Intifada with "force, might, beatings." Now he's co-chair of the International Crisis Group, and Chairman of the American Academy of Diplomacy. You can't, if you have a shred of respect for experience or expertise in international relations, accuse Tom Pickering of being naïve.

The New York Review of Books article was not the first surfacing of this proposal. Nor was the Boston Globe piece the first expression of Iranian interest. But what seems new is that the Iranian government appears to have shifted to a public diplomacy strategy. Instead of simply making proposals to US officials which they reasonably expect, based on experience, will be ignored or dismissed, or engaging with members of the US foreign policy establishment, which has so far not led to any meaningful change in US policy, they are attempting to speak directly to the reading US public.

Shouldn't we acknowledge receipt of the message?

Doesn't the fact that Ambassador Pickering advanced a similar proposal strongly suggest that there is a basis for negotiations between the United States and Iran, that could produce international enrichment of uranium on Iranian soil, that would acknowledge Iran's right to enrich uranium and address legitimate international concerns about nuclear proliferation?

If so, why isn't any attention being paid in the United States to Iran's May 13 proposal?

Will the American reading public only find out about this when it can be "safely" acknowledged, like Iran's 2003 proposal for comprehensive negotiations with the United States, as a "missed opportunity" in the past?

This week, journalist Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah's Men, which is about the U.S.-organized coup that overthrew the democratic government in Iran in 1953, is headed to Washington to press Members of Congress to promote real diplomacy with Iran. Kinzer has argued to U.S. officials that the example of 1953 indicates that even if the use of military force or external efforts at regime change should appear successful in the short-run -- a highly dubious prospect in any event -- they are almost certain to backfire in the long run, creating a government in Iran that will make today's government seem like a day at the beach. Since the policies of military threat and regime change do not gain the U.S. anything, and in fact make real diplomacy more difficult, these policies should be abandoned. Instead, the United States should pursue direct and comprehensive diplomacy with Iran, without pre-conditions on either side.

Kinzer will be taking letters from Americans across the United States, urging real diplomacy between the United States and Iran. You can sign such a letter here, and you can watch Stephen Kinzer make his case below.