President Obama’s Body Language on Iran is Just Right


obama sarkozy brown.jpgGiven the tumultuousness in many parts of America’s foreign policy portfolio, it’s easy to nitpick and criticize (which I do frequently), but I have to tip my hat to President Obama’s measured and positive comments today following the conclusion of what are officially called the P5+1 Negotiations with Iran.
P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Note that the President does not even mention the word “sanctions.”
While the “strategic depth” in some corners of the President’s national security team is weak — I believe that there is strategic depth on the National Security Council nuclear non-proliferation/Iran teams.
Here is the relevant section of President Obama’s statement:

Today, in Geneva, the United States — along with our fellow permanent members of the UN Security Council — namely, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany — held talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
These meetings came after several months of intense diplomatic effort. Upon taking office, I made it clear that the United States was prepared to join our P5-plus-1 partners as a full participant in talks with Iran. I extended the offer of meaningful engagement to the Iranian government. I committed the United States to a comprehensive effort to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear power — provided that they live up to their international obligations.
And we have engaged in intensive bilateral and multilateral diplomacy with our P5-plus-1 partners — and with nations around the world — to reinforce this point, including an historic U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed unanimously last week.
The result is clear: The P5-plus-1 is united, and we have an international community that has reaffirmed its commitment to non-proliferation and disarmament. That’s why the Iranian government heard a clear and unified message from the international community in Geneva: Iran must demonstrate through concrete steps that it will live up to its responsibilities with regard to its nuclear program.
In pursuit of that goal, today’s meeting was a constructive beginning, but it must be followed by constructive action by the Iranian government.
First, Iran must demonstrate its commitment to transparency. Earlier this month, we presented clear evidence that Iran has been building a covert nuclear facility in Qom. Since Iran has now agreed to cooperate fully and immediately with the International Atomic Energy Agency, it must grant unfettered access to IAEA inspectors within two weeks. I’ve been in close touch with the head of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, who will be traveling to Tehran in the days ahead. He has my full support, and the Iranian government must grant the IAEA full access to the site in Qom.
Second, Iran must take concrete steps to build confidence that its nuclear program will serve peaceful purposes — steps that meet Iran’s obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. The IAEA proposal that was agreed to in principle today with regard to the Tehran research reactor is a confidence-building step that is consistent with that objective — provided that it transfers Iran’s low enriched uranium to a third country for fuel fabrication. As I’ve said before, we support Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear power. Taking the step of transferring its low enriched uranium to a third country would be a step towards building confidence that Iran’s program is in fact peaceful.
Going forward, we expect to see swift action. We’re committed to serious and meaningful engagement. But we’re not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely, and we are prepared to move towards increased pressure. If Iran takes concrete steps and lives up to its obligations, there is a path towards a better relationship with the United States, increased integration with the international community, and a better future for all Iranians.
So let me reiterate: This is a constructive beginning, but hard work lies ahead. We’ve entered a phase of intensive international negotiations. And talk is no substitute for action. Pledges of cooperation must be fulfilled. We have made it clear that we will do our part to engage the Iranian government on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect, but our patience is not unlimited.
This is not about singling out Iran. This is not about creating double standards. This is about the global non-proliferation regime, and Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy, just as all nations have it — but with that right, comes responsibilities.
The burden of meeting these responsibilities lies with the Iranian government, and they are now the ones that need to make that choice.

More analysis later — but these are good signals, though it’s best to stay in the arena of low expectations for the next several rounds.
— Steve Clemons
Update: This from Michael Adler at the Daily Beast with some important and promising details on the confidence building package moved Iran’s way. — Steve Clemons


11 comments on “President Obama’s Body Language on Iran is Just Right

  1. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    curious observer…indeed…


  2. nadine says:

    “I’m going from memory here, but didn’t Putin make a proposal along these lines to Iran several years ago? The Iranians strung the Russians along for some time before turning them down, as I recall. In principle, it seemed at the time like a sensible way to begin resolving this problem.”
    Yep, Zathras, and that’s why they are trying it on again. In principle, it’s a good way to begin resolving the problem. In practice, it is a great way to string along the Western powers for months and years of more talks. All the while the Iranian centrifuges keep spinning and no fuel gets transferred. Plus, the Iranians get no bad consequences whatsoever for having built a secret nuclear facility in violation of their previous commitments.
    But that’s okay, I’m sure the diplomatic tone of the talks will be enough to keep Mr. Clemons satisfied. All that good “body language.”


  3. ... says:

    President Obama has reaffirmed a 4-decade-old secret understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections, three officials familiar with the understanding said.
    never thought i would be pasting a washington times link!


  4. Dan Kervick says:

    “But they are concerned not only with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran but also with the more immediate threat that Iran will destabilize the region if the West presses too hard, according to diplomats, regional analysts and former government officials.”
    They can’t quite figure out what their position is, can they? “Push back!” “But then again, but not to hard!”
    Anyway, even in these cherry-picked NYT quotes, I don’t find any expression of “detest” – just people worried about security questions.


  5. WigWag says:

    More on the alliance between Israel and the Sunni Arab nations against the possibility of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons.
    This is from the New York Times
    Possibility of a Nuclear-Armed Iran Alarms Arabs
    Published: September 30, 2009
    CAIRO — As the West raises the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, Arab governments, especially the small, oil-rich nations in the Persian Gulf, are growing increasingly anxious. But they are concerned not only with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran but also with the more immediate threat that Iran will destabilize the region if the West presses too hard, according to diplomats, regional analysts and former government officials.
    On Thursday, Iran will meet with six world powers to discuss a variety of issues in what will be the first direct talks between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Iran would appear to enter the discussions weakened by a bitter political dispute at home and by the recent revelation of a second, secret, nuclear enrichment plant being built near Qum.
    But instead of showing contrition, Iran test-fired missiles — an example of the kind of behavior that has caused apprehension among some of its Arab neighbors. The cause and effect of conflict between Iran and the West is never experienced in Washington or London but instead plays out here, in the Middle East, where Iran has committed allies like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
    “If the West puts pressure on Iran, regardless of the means of this pressure, additional pressure, increased pressure, do you think the Iranians will retaliate or stand idly by and wait for their fate to fall on their head?” said Ambassador Hossam Zaki, spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry. “The most likely answer is they will retaliate. Where do you think they will retaliate?”
    Among Iran’s Persian Gulf neighbors there is growing resignation that Iran cannot be stopped from developing nuclear arms, though Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful uses. Some analysts have predicted that a regional arms race will begin and that vulnerable states, like Bahrain, may be encouraged to invite nuclear powers to place weapons on their territories as a deterrent. The United States already has a Navy base in Manama, Bahrain’s capital.
    “I think the gulf states are well advised now to develop strategies on the assumption that Iran is about to become a nuclear power,” said Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a political science professor at United Arab Emirates University. “It’s a whole new ballgame. Iran is forcing everyone in the region now into an arms race.”
    This realization, in turn, is raising new anxieties and shaking old assumptions.
    Writing in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, for instance, the editor, Abdel-Beri Atwan, said that with recent developments “the Arab regimes, and the gulf ones in particular, will find themselves part of a new alliance against Iran alongside Israel.”
    The head of a prominent research center in Dubai said that it might even be better if the West — or Israel — staged a military strike on Iran, rather than letting it emerge as a nuclear power. That kind of talk from Arabs was nearly unheard of before the revelation of the second enrichment plant, and while still rare, it reflects growing alarm.
    “Israel can start the attack but they can’t sustain it; the United States can start it and sustain it,” said Abdulaziz Sager, a Saudi businessman and former diplomat who is chairman of the Gulf Research Center in the United Arab Emirates. “The region can live with a limited retaliation from Iran better than living with a permanent nuclear deterrent. I favor getting the job done now instead of living the rest of my life with a nuclear hegemony in the region that Iran would like to impose.”
    The Middle East is a region defined by many competing interests, among regional capitals, foreign governments and religious sects, and between people and their leaders. An action by one, in this case Iran, inevitably leads to a chain reaction of consequences. It is too early to say how the latest revelation will play out.
    Some regional analysts have said that fear of a nuclear Iran could yield positive results, possibly inspiring officials in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to work harder at reconciling with leaders in Syria, which has grown closer to Iran in recent years as its ties have frayed with Arab states.
    The report in Al Quds Al Arabi by Mr. Atwan said gulf states were taking measures to try to persuade Russia and China to stop supporting Iran. The report said that Saudi Arabia had offered to purchase billions of dollars of weapons from Russia if it agreed not to sell Iran sophisticated missiles. And it said gulf states might join together to offer China one million visas for its citizens to work in the region.
    The latest conflict over Iran’s nuclear program has also allayed some longstanding fears. Arab capitals aligned with the West are now less worried, for example, that President Obama will strike a deal with Tehran that might undermine Arab interests, analysts, diplomats and regional experts said.
    “It was a concern that, well, maybe the West was going to try to appease Iran on a number of regional issues in return for something,” Mr. Zaki said.
    But that is a relatively small consolation, given concerns that Iran might develop nuclear weapons or, if pushed, activate its allies, Hezbollah or Hamas, political analysts here said. Arab capitals already have accused Iran of fueling the recent fighting between Shiite rebels and the government in Yemen, and of inciting conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in places like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — charges Iran has flatly denied. Egypt has accused Iran of using its ties with Hamas to undermine Palestinian reconciliation and negotiations with Israel, as well.
    “There is no doubt, given the recent events, that the degree of threat and amount of fear has increased,” said Anwar Majid Eshki, director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jidda, Saudi Arabia.
    But Arab analysts are also not sure how the United States and its allies should proceed. Mr. Zaki and others offered little advice, other than to call on Washington to press to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which many see as the root cause of regional instability.
    “No one said it was an easy situation,” Mr. Zaki said.
    Three things about this article are interesting:
    1)The Arab nations (especially Saudi Arabia) plan to offer Russia and China financial and trade inducements to move them away from Iran.
    2)It supports the thesis that from a strategic point of view, a nuclear armed Iran might not be such a bad thing for Israel; especially if it pushes Israel’s Arab adversaries further away from Iran and aligns their military interests more closely with the military interests of Israel
    3)It reiterates yet again that (a)the Arab states are convinced Iran is seeking nuclear weapons; (b)the governments of these nations detest Iran; (c)the Arab governments are as hostile to the notion of an Iranian bomb as the Israelis are and (d)the Arab governments are so aghast at the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran that they might actually be willing to place themselves under the American nuclear umbrella and by extension the Israeli nuclear umbrella (which in practical terms is part of the American nuclear umbrella in the Middle East.


  6. Zathras says:

    I’m going from memory here, but didn’t Putin make a proposal along these lines to Iran several years ago? The Iranians strung the Russians along for some time before turning them down, as I recall. In principle, it seemed at the time like a sensible way to begin resolving this problem.


  7. JohnH says:

    It would be interesting to hear what confidence building measures the United States is prepared to take.
    – Is Obama prepared to suspend covert subversion and other efforts at regime change?
    – Is Obama prepared to take any options off the table?
    – Is Obama ultimately prepared to acknowledge the sovereignty and legitimacy of the regime?
    Confidence building is a two street, but we only seem to hear about what the US expects of the other side and what the other side has conceded.
    How about a fuller report?


  8. Curious observer says:

    “Iran must demonstrate through concrete steps that it will live up to its responsibilities.”
    Implication: Iran has not done so. That’s even though Iran notified the IAEA within six months of the Qom plant becoming operational, and it has agreed to let IAEA inspectors in.
    So what’s the actual dispute here? The Additional Protocol that Iran’s parliament never ratified and that according to the IAEA’s own website is not in force?
    I have a bad feeling about this, that just as Bush did with Iraq, Obama won’t take “yes” for an answer.


  9. Steve Clemons says:

    …, thanks. That mistake was a White House mistake in statement that they have corrected by issuing a revised statement. All best, steve


  10. ... says:

    you might want to fix your unintentional quote i think…. 2nd paragraph from the end “This is about creating double standards.”
    freudian slip no doubt…


  11. ... says:

    “First, Iran must demonstrate its commitment to transparency.”
    steve do you think the double standard applied only to iran and not israel will ever change in our lifetime?? ps – no name attached to this post, but i assume it is yours…


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