Nelson Report Says Bush Still on Diplomatic Track with Iran


Chris Nelson who writes the bloggish “Nelson Report“, rarely posted on the internet and just packed with great analysis and often good gossip, has a good report on Iran tonight. I post this in full with his permission.
I should note that when I last wrote about Iran, I stated that analysts I recently met with think that even if there is only a bleak binary option of either acquiescing to Iran’s nuclear pretensions or bombing Iran, the diplomatic option must be ‘credibly’ pursued. Rumsfeld and Cheney are making the feat of credible diplomacy more difficult, but it is clear that even if he attends to strike Iran later, Bush must ‘act’ like he is pursuing non-military options.
Tomorrow though, Iran will spurn the UN Security Council deadline.
Here is Chris Nelson’s superb analysis of the Iran mess as it is thus far:

The Nelson Report — Samuels International Associates
Wednesday, 30 August 2006
SUMMARY: Iran will not “meet the deadline” tomorrow at the UNSC to suspend its nuclear activities. . .that everyone accepts without question. So the US will follow-through with its determination to pursue a sanctions regime, via a second resolution, one with the continued support of the EU, Russia and China.
Also note that while Iran won’t meet the deadline, it’s response is not expected to be a clear “no”, although this may be difficult to discern, given the usual rhetorical habits of President Amadenijad. More on Iran’s possible negotiating position, below.
Further, say our sources, the White House fully understands that it is embarking on a process of weeks, even months, and that if the US pushes too hard, or demands the impossible, that both China and Russia will drop out of the international coalition, thus reducing US options, and raising international fears of a genuine crisis.
Full acceptance of the current White House posture remains to be gained, given continued opposition to serious negotiations with Iran held by Vice President Cheney, and DOD Secretary Rumsfeld. That’s why mistrust of the motives and judgment of the Bush Administration remains strong, within the US military establishment quite as much as with US friends and allies, and in both parties on Capitol Hill.
Everyone should calm down a bit, while remaining vigilant of both Bush and Iran, say sources who feel they are familiar with the real intentions of the President at this time.
No one, of course, is comfortable predicting the internal workings of the Iranian regime. But it sounds like the President, at least for now, is listening to Secretary of State Condi Rice, who in turn is listening to Undersecretary for Political Affairs (and possible Deputy Secretary to be?) Nick Burns. The result: Burns will be in Europe next week, testing the waters to see just how far the EU is prepared to go on sanctions to pressure Iran.
The real conversation, of course, will be between Burns and the Russians, and the assessment of Moscow’s willingness to allow anything more than very limited sanctions remains what it has been for months.
So, say sources familiar with the current White House thinking, Burns’ task will be to keep the EU, Russia and China on the same page. The anticipated agenda will discuss specific, very limited sanctions such as partial travel bans, and possible bans on nuclear related sales, perhaps also weapons. . .all to be hammered out over the next few weeks.
This elastic sense of timing is key to understanding the nature of the current stage of the Iranian nuclear “crisis”, our sources argue. While they understand that the US military community is aghast at the very notion of a shooting war with Iran (and Rumsfeld’s latest bloviations show exactly why the brass detests and mistrusts him, not to mention Capitol Hill critics now being accused of “appeasement”) our sources maintain that barring some dramatic move or provocation by Iran, the President’s focus remains on a diplomatic track.
Assuming that Burns’ negotiations start to bear fruit, and at some point this Fall the UNSC agrees to a program of limited, targeted sanctions, it still will take months, not weeks, to see what effect, if any, those sanctions are having on Iranian policy and nuclear programs.
This means that there will be ample time, and constant opportunity, for Burns and Secretary Rice to keep US allies calm, and to keep at least a façade of unity, while exploring quiet negotiations with Tehran over possible solutions to the crisis.
That’s the current, hoped for scenario, our sources maintain. But of course there must be planning for “what if” the UN process starts to break down, or just fails quickly. That would seem to open the door for the more testicular thinking of Cheney and Rumsfeld, however much the President is represented as understanding the need for time and care.
But if the UN track seems to falter, then expect the President to authorize the “coalition of the willing” approach to more a more vigorous sanctions regime, one which will bring new pressures and tensions between the US and current allies.
Expect, for example, renewed emphasis by Treasury on going after trade credits, lending and investments in Iran, which means deepening the current dialogue with the EU and Japan (a replication of the current, increasingly successful efforts against N. Korea).
In short, sources maintain that military moves are not on the agenda, even as contingencies. . this time. . .and despite Rumsfeld, Cheney and the neo-con die-hards who have learned nothing from Iraq.
That assessment relies on current intelligence estimates that even if Iran continues, without check, its current course of nuclear research and development, that it would not be able to produce a workable nuclear bomb any sooner than four years from now. Bearing in mind that all such estimates are guesstimates, four years is an eternity in politics, and it helps explain why President Bush, at least for now, thinks he has time to give diplomacy a real chance.
So that leads us to the question of whether Iran is simply playing a stalling game, and that it will stall right up to an announcement that a bomb is ready. . .something many observers of N. Korea now think is clearly the case for the DPRK.
About the only thing our sources agree upon is that the Iranians are immensely clever and sophisticated negotiators. But for every expert who thinks that a real Grand Bargain, or leveraged buyout of the Iranian nuclear weapons program is possible (you know the suggested “package”, which includes full diplomatic relations, trade, etc., etc.) there are experts who continue to maintain it’s all a trick.
Certainly, the State Department is willing to let time produce some of the answers, and to send interesting signals. . .see the decision to grant a visa to former President Khatami, who will deliver peace lecture, no less, at the National Cathedral in Washington, on Sept. 7. State claims there are no plans for private meetings with the presumed leader of Iran’s presumed moderate faction, but you can be the judge of the likelihood of letting that opportunity go by.

Nick Burns is an extremely capable diplomat, but part of the problem in this particular diplomacy is that Iran’s leadership weighs the value and consequences of a hot collision with America differently.
Former Iran President Khatami — who will be in Washington on September 7 — wants to avoid further aggravation and tension, but he’s not going to run against the perceived will of the majority of the Iranian public and step away from nuclear energy. There are lots of options on how that path can be maintained in Iran without proceeding down a war path.
The problem, however, is that I feel that Ahmadinejad does invite war. It’s the easiest way for him to validate himself as the new true leader of the Middle East. America must not give this guy what he wants. He’s egging Bush on with the call for a debate, for christening the start of a major heavy water nuclear reactor, and other obnoxious moves.
More later. But thanks to Chris Nelson for this great thinking and writing.
— Steve Clemons


28 comments on “Nelson Report Says Bush Still on Diplomatic Track with Iran

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *