US-Iran Talks: Failure by Design?

Officials from both sides have indicated that this negotiation is focused on Iraq and will not include discussions on other issues of mutual concerns, such as Iran's nuclear program.
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The Iranian and American officials have finally agreed to talk about creating stability in Iraq on May 28. During the last few months, the United States has resisted deliberating on this topic with Iraq's most influential neighbor -- Iran. Officials from both sides have indicated that this negotiation is focused on Iraq and will not include discussions on other issues of mutual concerns, such as Iran's nuclear program.

Obviously, the negotiations are not proceeding under the best of circumstances. On one hand, Iran is under pressure to halt enrichment of uranium: The first resolution (1737) was adopted on December 23, 2006, and the two-month deadline for the second resolution (1747) of the UNSC resolution, adopted on March 24, 2007, is fast approaching. On the other hand, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly emphasized that Iran will never stop enriching uranium even if the UNSC adopts a thousand more resolutions. Additionally, Iran-EU negotiations have reached an impasse since the West insists that Iran should suspend enrichment prior to any discussions, while Iran vehemently refuses to accept any pre-conditions to joining the deliberations.

In view of the fact that there is no indication of Iran's willingness to comply with the EU demands, it is likely that Tehran will increase the number of centrifuges and expand enrichment activities, resulting in more political and economic pressure on them from the UNSC through the adoption of a the third resolution.

Moreover, the US is entering negotiations armed with claims of Iran's involvement in arming and training insurgents in Iraq -- a claim repeatedly denied by the Iranians. However, American officials have not been able to produce any clear proof of these claims. Conversely, there is indication that the US is in fact supporting Kurdish insurgents in Iraq, against Iran!

Meanwhile, Iranians are stepping into the ring with the assertion that US occupation is the root of all problems in Iraq, and warning the US against any military action. On a trip to UAE this past Monday, President Ahmadinejad stated that, "They (the Americans) understand that if they should make this mistake, the retaliation of the Iranian people will be severe and they will repent." He appears to be giving the impression that the Iranian government is not concerned about sanctions and/or even a military strike.

Given such murky perceptions and dire circumstances, why should we expect any negotiations between the two countries to be effective or productive? There is very little incentive for Iran to support the US government in resolving its challenges in Iraq, especially given the fact that they are accused of supporting insurgency in Iraq, and are facing pending sanctions.

A journalist friend in Iran indicated that the hardliners have adopted a harsh tone against officials who approve of talks with the US. One of the conservative newspapers in Tehran has entitled these negotiations as "dancing with wolves and shaking with evil".

I asked him if he thinks that public opinion in Iran supports the idea of direct talks with the US. His response was that "since 2001 when Iran supported the US in an attempt to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iranian officials are extremely mistrustful of engaging with Washington given the cold reception they received in return for their support. They feel that as soon as US resolves the Iraqi situation, they will increase their pressure on Tehran."

Iran is not likely to support US in Iraq, unless the US shows a willingness to change its attitude toward Tehran's regime and embrace an 'engagement policy'; this policy would include the US removing regime change policy from its agenda, supporting the lifting of sanctions against Iran, halting the support of Iranian opposition groups, and removing Iran from its "Axis of Evil" list. Interestingly, these items were included in Iran's 2003 letter to the administration, which was completely ignored.

Iranians, as they have proposed before, should ensure "full transparency" and other measures to assure the U.S. that it will not develop nuclear weapons, offer an active support for Iraqi stabilization, contemplate an end to material support "Palestinian opposition groups" while pressuring Hamas, and support the transition of Hezbollah to be a "mere political organization within Lebanon.

If these conditions persist, it is very unlikely that the negotiations will produce any feasible results and in its current state, clearly designed to fail, much to the satisfaction of warmongers in Tehran and Washington who dislike engagement. Although it appears that the public opinion supports dialogue between the two countries, unsuccessful attempts may have even more destructive consequences.

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