West Rebuffs Iran’s Concessions

So far, the West is taking a hard line in talks with Iran, responding to its concessions on its nuclear program with only modest rewards and, indeed, with new threats of sanctions. U.S. politicians, in particular, are bending to Israeli demands for either Iranian capitulation or war, a worry to ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

In looking at the state of play after a day of talks in Baghdad between Iran and the P5+1, one has to ask how much of what is impeding progress is the work of those having a stake in the negotiations failing and how much results from misunderstanding how international negotiations work.

The public picture of what transpired across the table on Wednesday is incomplete, but evidently the principal sticking point is Western refusal so far to consider any relaxation of any of the sanctions already imposed on Iran. This refusal is being maintained despite Iran having made it clear it is willing to give up enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level, a move that would get to the heart of what ostensibly is the main Western concern about how close Iran is to a nuclear-weapons capability.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

In return for this concession, the negotiators, led by the European Union’s Lady Ashton, reportedly are dangling such tidbits as spare airplane parts and fuel rods for the Iranian reactor that produces medical isotopes. While those are not quite trivial throwaways, they pale in comparison with the sanctions, the lifting of which is the main reason Iran has to negotiate.

And it is not as if incremental easing of the mountain of sanctions that have been piled up over the years would leave the P5+1 with no remaining pressure points as leverage over Iran. Far from it.

Maybe the P5+1 [the five UN Security Council members plus Germany] have something more in their pockets to reveal as talks continue. We should hope so. But as Iran has been brought to one side of table and shown increasing flexibility in recent weeks, the direction of those represented on the other side of the table, and in particular in the U.S. Congress, has been to pile on still more sanctions.

Do some of the people involved really believe that this is the way negotiations work? That rather than being give and take, it is all take and no give? That the way to induce the other side to make more concessions is to punish it when it shows flexibility?

I would not rule out that some really do have such a deeply flawed understanding of negotiations. Perhaps we are partly seeing a crude “more is better” perspective, in which it is believed that if sanctions elicited some concessions, then more sanctions are what is needed to elicit more concessions. And we have to look no farther than the House Republicans’ approach to budget issues to see an all-take-and-no-give school of negotiation in action.

On balance, however, I believe what we are seeing reflected at the conference table in Baghdad is a matter less of ignorance about negotiations than of political submission by those who know quite well what they are doing. This includes, but is not limited to, those who want the talks to fail.

The whole Iranian nuclear issue has attained the preoccupying status it has, after all, because of domestic U.S. politics and the role in those politics of a foreign government that has posited Iran’s nuclear program as the defining threat of our time. Most American politicians have come to see as politically beneficial a line according to which pressure is the only proper posture toward Iran.

Most American politicians see as politically dangerous support for any measure that could be described as making nice to Iran, regardless of how much such a measure might be necessary to achieve some other goal we supposedly are pursuing, such as avoidance of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Possibly the non-U.S. components of the P5+1 will be able to show more flexibility than the United States, but the United States is the most important player on its side of the table, despite the E.U. chairmanship. Maybe we can hope for something more on a second day of talks. Maybe we have a better hope for something more in a second presidential term.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

13 comments for “West Rebuffs Iran’s Concessions

  1. May 28, 2012 at 19:41

    Since this issue has nothing to do with the Iranians seeking a nuclear weapon, but Israel wanting access to the Litanni River in Lebanon and the West wanting to divert Iranian oil production into the Ceyhan/Baku pipeline which is currently running at 40 % capacity (and has no chance of paying off its 25 billion dollar construction cost without it) to reduce Russia’s grip on European energy supplies, nothing short of outright war will do.

    This will be the West and Israel’s last hurrah and, quite likely, humanity’s as a whole. Fine! Let’s get it over with. I’m tired of the lies.

  2. rosemerry
    May 28, 2012 at 01:35

    Thanks Paul Pillar and the commenters. After reading Phil Giraldi’s post on HR 4133, where this AIPAC-concocted law, providing complete control to Israel of the USA’s policies, was voted 411 to 2 by the US “House of Representatives”, I realised that no other nation has any importance except Israel.

  3. fosforos
    May 27, 2012 at 16:57

    When did China become part of the “West?”

    • rosemerry
      May 28, 2012 at 01:28

      a little time after Japan did.

  4. Kenny Fowler
    May 26, 2012 at 18:49

    Things are going as well as can be expected. Acceptance of Iran’s nuclear power industry is slowly taking hold. Except for Netanyahu and the neocons of course. Iran has made it clear they are not making nukes, period. Will it ever be possible for them to make one, maybe, if they really really tried, but their not trying, at all. Doesn’t matter if they have dump trucks full of enriched uranium, they’re not building bombs. The neocons will keep up the pro war propaganda blitz but they’re running out of steam. This is not going to gain any traction as an issue in the upcoming election for either side. Mostly because it’s not important to the 99% voters.

  5. jo6pac
    May 25, 2012 at 18:22

    Yep my thought also and thanks Paul R. Pillar.

  6. incontinent reader
    May 25, 2012 at 01:20

    Maybe the Russians and Chinese will start to play hardball with them in the Central Asian Republics, especially Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and just clear them out as the Russians did to the Turks who were part of the “Gladio” program creating terror in Chechnya. Regime change in Azerbaijan would be welcome as would an eviction of BP.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    May 24, 2012 at 15:21

    Let’s say for the sake of argument that Iran capitulates to what are essentially demands from Israel. None of the P5+1 countries really have anything strategic to be gained by Iranian capitulation. In the absence of lifting the sanctions, Iran has nothing to gain either. But let’s say they do capitulate. Then what? What will be Israel’s next agenda in a never ending string of unreasonable demands? The plight of the Palestinians will not go away. Israel’s clear status as a carpetbagger nation in a part of the world with which it has absolutely no common interests will not change. Sooner or later, the disruption of rational progress which has ceaselessly ground on for the last sixty years will become a nuisance too persistent to ignore. Israel has become like the fly in the room that bursts into action at just the moment one dozes off to sleep. It’s usually too much trouble to get up and find the fly swatter. But sooner or later, someone among the nations will be annoyed. It’s when the fly lands on your ear, walks across your lips or wanders across an eyelid that the annoyance, though painless, becomes too much to bear. Finally, with flyswatter in hand, “Take that, you son of a bitch”. Of all the strategic allies we might choose in the Middle East, Iran far and away has the most to offer. But we’ve chosen Israel, and it has cost us nothing but blood and treasure. And damn the ingratitude. They act like we owe it to them. If the United States simply had the courage to say, “You’ve caused enough trouble: behave yourselves”, Israel would slink away with its tail between its legs. It is our enabling that is making war inevitable. Perhaps the sooner it happens, the sooner we’ll get it over with. Because if it isn’t Iran, it will be somebody else. The family of nations is annoyed, and the flyswatters aren’t going away.

    • Hillary
      May 24, 2012 at 22:08

      “They act like we owe it to them.”

      F. G. Sanford on May 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      The U.S.has just about been taken over by a foreign country it created.

      Israel the size of New Jersey & with probably the world’s 4th strongest military is holding the US & the world to ransom — because it can.


      A special Parliament has also been set up to take care of Europe,


    • lexy
      June 2, 2012 at 01:39

      No “flyswatters” will ever come to the “rescue”..it is too late. Israel has enough nukes primarily targeted at Europe and the US to destroy life on the planet. Try “flyswatting” Israel and we are all dead. Those who encouraged the formation of the State of Israel and armed her, inadvertently signed the world’s death sentence. It is only a matter of time.

  8. elmerfudzie
    May 24, 2012 at 13:48

    Back in the early 1990’s Iran missed a great opportunity to show the world it’s political and financial where-with-all not to mention an advanced scientific ability when their mullahs chose a uranium based commercial power plant over thorium. An arrangement with the government of India could have been made for technical assistance and an unending supply of Th232 in exchange for oil between the two countries. Thorium based nuclear reactors require very small amounts of plutonium “seed material” for reaction. The fission products are easier and cheaper to process for final storage and Most Importantly, turning a thorium based reactor into an A bomb factory is exceedingly difficult if not impossible. The “seed core” plutonium 239 or U 235 required is, in military terms, unimportant and non threatening. What could have been a premiere showing of commercial nuclear power advancing from infancy to adolescence may now only bring us World War III.

    • fred
      May 28, 2012 at 11:55

      Great suggestion Elmer. There are also forms of Thorium reactors that use a proton accelerator to initiate reactions and those require no Plutonium or enriched uranium at all. Carlo Rubbia, the European Nobel Prize winner has described and recommended such reactors. They can even be used to digest highly radioactive wastes such that, at the end of the fuel cycle, the wastes are less dangerous than coal ash. But let’s be honest and realistic, Israel is the biggest diplomatic hypocrite in the history of nuclear weapons negotiations. They stole their initial supplies of bomb building materials from the USA, have not signed the NNPT, and are credibly accused by FBI translator Sibel Edmonds of proliferating nuclear technology from the USA to Pakistan through Turkey. Her credibility is sustained by Senators like Charles Grassely of Iowa. So how did Israel become qualified to play a whining “David” against Iran’s mythical Goliath? Iran has used false-flag terrorism against the USA while Israel has. (We just don’t know exactly how many times…) Iran has not been inventing false excuses to attack mid-eastern countries, and has not been manipulating the United States into attacking any other countries as Israel has. And Iran is not to blame for the deaths of 1/3 million innocent Iraqi’s as the USA and Israel most certainly are. Americans need to demand of their representatives a foreign policy that promotes the best interests of the USA rather than the best interests of a psychopath state whose long-standing goals are the destruction of all neighboring regimes and the completion of ethnic-cleansing of “eretz israel”. But that “final solution” requires some cover and starting a war with Iran is probably just what the Strangelovian Likudniks want in order to Bulldoze the remaining Palestinians into Jordan and Egypt. If the USA were true to the values of it’s ordinary citizens rather than to non-existent values of the neocons, we would be supporting the Palestinians and not their persecutors.

      • elmerfduzie
        May 28, 2012 at 21:36

        The true enemy in all this seems to be a developing form of Nihilism, it pop’s up with a dazzling regularity throughout world history. The Church calls it “culture of death”. The name calling begins, several spins begin to emerge and find their way into print as to who’s aiding and abetting war mongers? For example, a historical one…if only FDR had Stimson was it? close ALL those military bases in Europe the Mil-Ind-Complx would be manageable now. Or, after the USSR collapsed Congress failed to moth ball most of the pentagon. Or, certain observations that international banksters are allowing a new “Nazi Germany” to resurrect again and hoping it will evolve into a feudal golden age for the capitalist overlords…I should say the surviving lords, war isn’t what it used to be.. And now an epiphany!, the issue Einstein saw in a flash. Humanity is not mature enough to embrace rapidly emerging science, in effect (atoms for peace, GMO,s, bio-warfare et cetera. The current elite “Visigoths” are sacking this, burning that (Greece) thinking they have a club firmly in hand (Fiat currency?!), confident of their grip but they couldn’t control Hitler when they deliberately put him in power via Franz Von Papen et al… and they can’t control nuclear proliferation or the use of nuclear weapons, who-ever may have or will acquire them, here I include germs, toxics, yes and even low hanging fruit like gun nuts and shoe bombers. The neo-cons are touting, d-o-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n! but they only half believe it, the filthy rich are attending fusion power conferences, as if one can breeze through the middle of a book and comprehend the plot by reading the last few pages. A whole new United Nations is required now, tabula rasa but it will never happen…even with fervent prayer, I’m not too hopefull.

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