Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Chess Moves

The US may join the EU negotiators that have attempted to talk the Mullahs off the bridge. The trouble is that the Mullahs only want to come down one way.

Case in point:

The US moves:
The United States is willing to join European nations in direct talks with Iran if the Iranian government first agrees to suspend its programs to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel, activities that Washington charges are part of plans to build nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, announcing the U.S. policy shift at a State Department news conference today, warned that if the Iranian government does not choose the path of negotiations and continues to pursue atomic weapons, "it will incur only great costs."

But she stopped short of confirming that the United States has obtained agreement from Russia and China to impose United Nations sanctions if Iran does not comply. She said in response to questions after a prepared statement that negotiators are still "working on a package" that includes potential penalties for noncompliance, as well as benefits if Iran accepts the deal.

The Bush administration previously had eschewed direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program, preferring to let three European Union nations -- Britain, France and Germany, known as the EU3 -- conduct negotiations on behalf of the West. However, Germany lately has increasingly urged Washington to deal with Tehran directly. U.S. engagement with Iran is also believed to be supported by Russia and China, two nations that have resisted U.S. efforts to obtain U.N. sanctions against Iran for going ahead with its enrichment program.

"To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our European colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives," Rice said today. She said the proposal has been conveyed to Iran through the Swiss government.

"We urge Iran to make this choice for peace, to abandon its ambition for nuclear weapons," Rice said.

Refusal to do so, she said, "will lead to international isolation and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions."

She added: "We are agreed with our European partners on the essential elements of a package containing both benefits if Iran makes the right choice and costs if it does not. We hope that, in the coming days, the Iranian government will thoroughly consider this proposal."
Iran counters:
The United States said Wednesday it would join in face-to-face talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear program once Tehran puts its atomic activities on hold, a shift in tactics meant to offer the Iranians a last chance to avoid punishing sanctions.

Iran dismissed the offer as "a propaganda move."


The Iranian news agency said Iran accepts only proposals and conditions that are in the nation's interest. "Halting enrichment definitely doesn't meet such interests," IRNA said.
What incentive does Iran have to stop enriching Uranium? China and Russia are hugh markets for their oil. Any electricity generation that the Iranians develop means more oil and natural gas they can pump out to these hungry customers. Plus, they'll have a huge nuclear weapons market once they weaponize their enriched uranium.

What incentive do China and Russia have to cooperate with the US and the EU? China's demand for oil has already driven the price of crude to record levels; the energy-famished industry of the awakening dragon isn't letting up, soon. Russia already exports at least a quarter of Western Europe's natural gas. They're not going to pass up the opportunity to purchase more from the Mullahs.

The long and the short of it is this: if the US can't get China and Russia on board, then the world will fail to isolate Iran in any way that matters to the Mullahcracy.

The Iranians continue to test the will of their trading partners. Meanwhile, the clock ticks on.