Hype, False Hopes, and the U.S. Imperialist Agenda Behind Iran Nuclear Negotiations
U.S.-Israeli threats against Iran--including threats of war--commanded front-page headlines earlier this year. In recent weeks the specter of war has receded, replaced by news of negotiations, on May 24-25 in Baghdad, Iraq, between Iran and the U.S. and its allies.
Before the Baghdad talks, government officials and the media fanned speculation that a breakthrough was at hand and the clash between the U.S. and its allies and Iran could be resolved through diplomacy, without a military clash. "Experts Believe Iran Conflict Is Less Likely," an April 30 headline in The New York Times read, followed on May 19 by "U.S. Officials See Promising Signs for Iran Meeting." Many who have been concerned about the war danger were relieved and saw this as a sign that the Obama administration didn't want war and was restraining Israel, that both countries' rulers had "come to their senses" and realized that war would be too costly and unpredictable to wage, and/or that the earlier threats weren't serious but designed to pressure Iran to negotiate.
The hype has so far proved illusory, and analyses downplaying the extremity of the tensions miss the underlying, driving dynamics. The May 24-25 negotiations didn't lead to a breakthrough--or even progress toward a negotiated settlement. Quite the opposite. It revealed and sharpened the clash between the U.S. and its allies and Iran. "The setback risks future deadlock that could trigger another Mideast war," the Christian Science Monitor reported. ""I think it was a complete failure, in terms of content,' says an Iranian diplomat. "The more they talk, the worse it gets.'" ("Iran nuclear talks a "complete failure,' says Iranian diplomat," May 25)
The threats by the U.S., its imperialist allies and Israel and their refusal, for decades, to cut a deal with Iran is driven by the U.S. necessity to defend and deepen its Middle East dominance. For these imperialists, Iran is an obstacle. The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is a reactionary theocracy with its own needs and ambitions, and has significant economic, political, geographic, and ideological strength and influence--in particular as a pole of Islamist or Islamic fundamentalist influence. Iran's nuclear program is one key part of these broader issues. Its agenda--indeed its very existence--clashes with and is eroding U.S.-Israeli interests and hegemony across the region and beyond. So for the U.S. and Israel, it's an impediment that must be removed.
Negotiations--A Forum for Pursuing the Compulsions of Empire
The negotiations, which are ongoing, are between Iran and the "P5+1" (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--the U.S., Britain, China, Russia and France--plus Germany). They are supposedly aimed at resolving the dispute over Iran's uranium enrichment program. Iran claims it is enriching uranium to produce nuclear power and medical isotopes--not to make weapons. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran and the U.S. have signed, upholds "the inalienable right of all of the parties to the treaty to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination." (http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2005/npttreaty.html)
The U.S. and its allies--Israel in particular--charge that Iran has worked on nuclear weapons in the past and may still be trying to position itself to build nuclear weapons should it decide to do so.
The outlines for a deal were clear. Iran was willing to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity for medical isotopes used to treat cancer patients and give up its existing supply. In return, Iran demanded guarantees that other countries would supply these needs. Iran would also agree to further, more stringent inspections of its nuclear facilities to ensure that no uranium was being diverted to make weapons. In return, Iran expected the step-by-step easing of sanctions as it demonstrated that its nuclear program did not have a military dimension, and that the P5+1 would recognize its right to enrich uranium to 3 percent purity for use in nuclear power (uranium must be enriched to over 90 percent purity to be used for nuclear weapons).
However, the negotiations broke down because the U.S.-led group refused to ease sanctions or acknowledge Iran's right to enrich uranium at all. One U.S. official said bluntly that recognizing that right is "obviously not something we are prepared to do"--a continuation of U.S. policy for decades.
Sanctions are adding to the suffering and deprivation faced by ordinary Iranians. In moments of candor, U.S. officials admit this is one of their goals: to "create hate and discontent at the street level," as one official put it, in order to weaken the IRI. ("Public ire one goal of Iran sanctions, U.S. official says," Washington Post, January 10)
Obama's "Engagement" Policy--Instrument for "the Harshest and Most Coercive Measures Against Iran"
The U.S. negotiating stance demonstrates that its concern has never simply been preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, much less ridding the world of nuclear weapons. For them, Iran's nuclear program is a concentration of a larger problem: the ways the IRI is challenging U.S.-Israeli dominance. Iran's technical ability to build a bomb--whether it made one or not--could change the regional political and military balance of power--in particular the freedom of the U.S. regional attack dog, Israel, to attack anyone, anytime. This may be one of the IRI's objectives, as part of a broader effort to strengthen its economic-technical capabilities and its political standing, while demanding that these interests--and the regime's permanence--be recognized by the big powers. In the eyes of the imperialists, anything that strengthens the IRI and makes it more difficult to overthrow is, to this point, a non-starter.
Former Bush officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett write that the U.S. negotiating position is driven by "the Obama team's ongoing commitment to American hegemony in the Middle East". [I]t treats nuclear negotiations with Tehran as a venue for making the Islamic Republic surrender to American demands, not as an important element in realigning the U.S.-Iranian relationship." ("Nuclear Talks with Iran Highlight the Downsides of America's Ongoing Quest for Middle East Hegemony," May 28, http://www.raceforiran.com/)
The U.S. has never recognized the permanence or legitimacy of the IRI; instead its strategy over many years has been to isolate, weaken and ultimately overthrow it. This remains the case under Obama. At a recent conference on Iran, State Department officials argued openly to Iranian activists that "the US priority in Iran is not human rights violations and not public opinion in Iran. Rather, the diplomat insisted that Washington's main concern was Iran's nuclear program, its impact on the security of Israel, and avenues for regime-change. He mentioned Pakistan as an example where regime-change is no longer possible because of its nuclear capabilities." (John Glaser, "US Iran Policy Intended to Leave Open "Avenues for Regime Change,'" May 28, Antiwar.com, citing Prof. Joshua Landis)
The Obama administration has used negotiations and diplomacy as a means of advancing those objectives--not peacefully resolving differences with other countries. A former Iranian official and member of Iran's nuclear negotiation team sums up: