Look who?s speaking
By agreeing to talk to each other ? rather than at each other ? Tehran and Washington will surely bring down rising tensions by several notches.india Updated: Jun 02, 2006 01:08 IST
The upside of pressure-cooker diplomacy is that there’s always some space to let off steam. By agreeing to talk to each other — rather than at each other — Tehran and Washington will surely bring down rising tensions by several notches. Responding to the surprise offer of a direct dialogue made by the US last Wednesday, Iran has now agreed to a dialogue with Washington. Earlier, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had declared the US’s intention of joining Britain, France and Germany for talks with Iran, if it suspended its controversial uranium enrichment activities. This is probably the most significant step Washington has taken to resolve the issue ever since it ballooned into such a major crisis. Coming as it does on the eve of the Vienna meeting where the world’s major powers are to discuss a package of incentives for Iran, this opens a small window of opportunity for the issue to be settled.
The EU package is expected to offer Tehran several economic incentives, including the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor and the supply of reactor fuel, besides membership of a regional security arrangement that will indirectly address the issue of security guarantees.
It remains to be seen, though, how the most important stumbling block in the negotiations can be removed — Tehran’s insistence on making the import of reactor fuel conditional on being allowed to maintain its Natanz small-scale uranium enrichment facility. On one hand, Iran signals an openness to negotiate a deal with the Europeans, while on the other it waves its right — under the Non-Proliferation Treaty — to enrich uranium. Such enrichment activity could eventually give Iran the critical know-how for producing nuclear bombs. Hopefully, sensible diplomacy of the kind that’s emerging may still get Iran to suspend its enrichment program. After all, it offered the EU just that, last January, although the proposal came too late as the issue was already referred to the UN Security Council.
Direct US-Iran parleys could now give this a second chance, provided the talks cover not only the nuclear issue, but also others like Iraq, terrorism, the stalled West Asia peace process, and all the other bad blood that has accumulated and poisoned relations between the US and Iran since the late Seventies.