Ahmadinejad: US must Cease Militarily Targetting Iran before Direct Negotiations

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replied on the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution to recent US overtures from Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, suggesting direct talks between the US and Iran over its nuclear enrichment program.

Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying, “The change of tone is necessary but not sufficient . . . Stop pointing weapons at the Iranian nation and I will myself negotiate with you . . .”

His statements come after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei published a statement at his website last week, “I am not a diplomat but a revolutionary and I speak frankly . . . You (Americans) are pointing the gun at Iran and say either negotiate or we will shoot.”

What the two Iranian leaders seem to be saying is that they actually have two prerequisites for talks with the US. The first is that the US stop saying “all options are on the table,” i.e. menacing Iran with a military attack. Since the United Nations Charter does indeed forbid countries from threatening to attack their neighbors unilaterally and in circumstances other than direct self-defense, Iran is within its rights to make this demand. The other policy they seem to be insisting be changed before talks is the US financial blockade of Iran’s petroleum sales. The US has had Iran thrown off all the world’s major bank exchanges and is twisting the arms of all its petroleum importers to cease buying Iranian petroleum. At the same time, the US has behind the scenes plotted with Saudi Arabia to flood the world petroleum market with an extra two million barrels a day of oil, so as to hold Japan, South Korea and other buyers of Iranian petroleum harmless and give them an alternative supplier.

Ironically, Japan’s new right wing government is offering to help Saudi Arabia build nuclear power plants so that Saudis won’t use so much of their petroleum for electricity generation, freeing up more Saudi oil for Japanese drivers. Japan also wants guarantees from Riyadh on emergency oil supplies for the next 20 years. This step is all the more important because Japan wants to please the US Treasury and State Departments by getting off Iranian oil altogether.

Iran’s petroleum exports were cut by 40% in 2012 because of the US financial blockade, which is arguably tantamount to an act of war in international law. Iran’s oil exports jumped in December, 2012, because it is gradually finding a way around US sanctions. Thus, it is buying its own oil tankers from China, and insuring them itself, and selling the petroleum to China, which is refusing to cooperate with the US blockade. Its shipments were marked by delays, and finally reached China in December. But it may be that over time, Iran will get good at distributing its own oil. Likewise, it has worked out a deal with India to accept rupees, a soft currency, in payment. This step locks it into reciprocal trade with India, shifting its buying of import goods to that country and away from Europe. (In turn, European firms have suffered major losses from the end of Iranian imports, at a time when they can little afford it).

So I read Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to say that the US has to stop hinting around that it will bomb Iran out of the blue one day, and it has to stop the financial blockade of Iranian oil sales, if it really wants serious negotiations.

These proposals should be taken seriously, though obviously they are opening, maximal bids.

As long-time readers know, I don’t believe the Iranian regime actually wants a nuclear warhead. I conclude that it wants a Japan option or nuclear latency, i.e., the ability to have a nuclear deterrence in case it was mortally threatened.

I therefore believe it is ultimately possible for the US, Israel and Iran to avoid war and to come to a mutually agreeable compromise. Iran doesn’t need to enrich at above 5% (enough to fuel its nuclear reactors) or to keep much in the way of stockpiles enriched at 19.75% (enough for its medical, reactor, producing isotopes to treat cancer) if what it really wants is, say, to be able to throw together a low-megaton bomb at the last minute as invasion forces swarm toward its shores. It should be noted that Pakistan’s 14 low-megaton bombs were likely an important deterrent to an Indian attack in 2002, when the two countries almost went to war. Nuclear latency would be almost as much a deterrent as actually putting together a bomb, which is why Iran wants that capability.

In other words, Israel and the West are wrong in their analysis of Iran as a potential aggressor. The regime hasn’t invaded any neighbors and has no intention of doing so. Its nuclear enrichment program is for two purposes, to provide the deterrent of latency, and for the same reason that Japan suggested nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia– to preserve its petroleum as an export commodity rather than using it itself.

If sufficient inspection regimes can be implemented such that Iran’s pledges of not actually going for a nuclear warhead become credible to the US and Europe, then the crisis can be averted. The US should reply to Khamenei’s objections and move forward with an offer that if Iran will limit enrichment to 5% and avoid building extensive stockpiles of 19.75%-enriched uranium beyond what is needed for the medical reactor, it will take regime change off the table. The US loses nothing in so doing, since it cannot actually change the Tehran regime anyway, and since Obama clearly does not intend to bomb Iran. Since that is the case, why not admit it, if that is what it takes to make a historic diplomatic breakthrough.

Despite the apparent tough talk coming from Iran, what is really going on is a negotiation in which Tehran is raising the stakes. Obama still has the opportunity to open Iran as Nixon opened China. He should see their bid, and raise them a round table.

26 Responses

  1. I think that the end goal of the US isn’t to prevent Iran to get nuclear power, it is to control the whole ME oil ressources and to prevent China to get too much of it. Their goal is to make to Iran what they did to Iraq : weaken them through sanctions enough, isolate them and either change the regime with a more US friendly regime they can control, or if that doesn’t work, invade them. I agree with you that Iran doesn’t want nuclear warheads, but that since that is just a pretext for the US it doesn’t really matters.

    The irony of it is that as you have demonstrated, this will just push the Iranian to ship more oil to the Chinese and other Asian markets. This may push the US to try regime change harder, or even to go to war (depending how things turn after Obama) .

    • In the aftermath of the Iraq withdrawal and the response to the Egyptian revolution, as well as the focus of military activity on lush, oil-rich treasure troves of Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia (all of which feature either no boots on the ground, or the withdrawal of them), reading this administration’s foreign policy as a straightforward quest for oil and hegemony is not obvious.

      At the same time, the NEW START accords with Russia (which they valued so highly that they were willing to abandon the Eastern European anti-missile bases) and the extensive efforts to secure loose nuclear material around the world suggest that this administration does, in fact, take nuclear non-proliferation seriously as a foreign policy goal.

    • Is that why the US is involved in counter-terrorism in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia? To control Middle East Oil? Is the US in control of Iraqi oil? Is there a huge reserve of oil under the sands of Yemen that most of us are unaware exists? It would be interesting to see the intelligence to which you are privy to determine how you reach your conclusion that the US effort in the above-cited areas is a ploy to control Middle East oil.

  2. In South Carolina, home of Bibi’s BFF Lindsey Graham, it’s depressing to find so many successful, intelligent men and women who think Iran already has nuclear weapons and will use them on this country, thanks to the ever popular and war crazy Fox News and the 24/7

    For those of you who haven’t been surfing the net, here is a nixed skit that was to run on SNL last week. Admittedly it is not funny, but the fact that SNL would suggest such a clip about the embarrassing Hagel hearings gives me hope.

    link to huffingtonpost.com

  3. Obama still has the opportunity to open Iran as Nixon opened China.

    Prof. Cole,
    Great post with the above statement being the key point. Obama has clarity of vision and I am hoping that with the rebuilding of Obama’s cabinet with folks like Kerry and Hagel and the conclusion of Israeli elections provides a window of opportunity to make progress on embarking on a new relationship with Iran that eventually leads to what you describe above.

  4. “We’re willing to enter negotiations, but only if you meet our primary demands first.”

    When the Israelis do this, it’s assumed to be a dodge.

  5. Despite the apparent tough talk coming from Iran, what is really going on is a negotiation in which Tehran is raising the stakes. Obama still has the opportunity to open Iran as Nixon opened China. He should see their bid, and raise them a round table.

    This is the strategy that Obama is frequently denounced for adopting by his domestic leftist critics – setting his opening bid at halfway, before the negotiations even begin.

    Better: he should respond with a call for talks “without preconditions,” while quietly reassuring the Iranians that “all options are on the table” is not a threat, but rather, the non-answer answer that most people understand it to be.

  6. Khamenei is right to reject negotiations. We have been down this path before and to no avail.

    When the US is prepared to bring some carrots to the negotiating table, then negotiations can begin. So far there have been no carrots, only sticks.

    Demanding Iran totally and unconditionally surrender may play well in Israel and South Carolina, but it doesn’t do much to enhance the security of the region.

  7. Juan, as usual your analysis is clear and convincing (and deserves a NYT op ed. Just one question: Do you believe that closer ties between Iran and the US must come at the expense of tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia?
    According to David Crist’s recent book on the US-Iran conflict, The Twilight War, “[T]he Iranian Revolution had added a mission as the new defender of the downtrodden Shia across the Middle East and, by extension, all Muslims resisting the West and Israel. Starting in Lebanon, facilitated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and most recently in Yemen and Bahrain, Iran provided a steady stream of military and economic support to these movements. This puts Iran squarely at odds with both Israel and the Sunni governments backed by the United States.” link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

  8. I agree with Christine about the US desire to control oil supplies but I also believe that the Iranian use of currencies in oil trade other than US dollars in more important. Why else would they have interferred in the BIS (which is supposed to be an independent organization but not from US interference which does not bode well for any other miscreants of US policy/control. Should the US dollar not remain the fiat currency of commodity trading, all the US debt will come due over time with no way for the US to pay and the dollar will tank as will also what remains of the US economy.

  9. I believe tha Prof. Cole is mistaken in asserting that the Iraqnian requisite for US-Iran negotiation is maximal. I believe from reading and listening to various politicians from Iran, Respect, Friendship etc is the prerequisite for negotiation, else IRan will continue to advance [as it did technologically] in spite of the USA and satrap embagoes.
    When one considers that China, India Russia Brazil and most of the NAM states back IRan, then the USA’s 5% and EU’s 6 % [plus minor % of Japan, Canada, S. Korea et al]of population is greatly out numbered.
    It is true that Europe suffers due to the sanctions, but so does the USA:
    1., Oil prices are higher by approx 20% due to Iran sanctions according to numerous statmentsin USA/UK media.
    2.,USA companes are excluded form exploration in Iran, a loss to USA’s Oil Service Companies – the most advanced in the world.
    3., Thes actions are contrary to USA Constitution [as per adevise and consent of USA Senate to sapplicable International LAw]: as Mrs Clinton admitted the sanctions are intentionally designed to hurt civilians by instituting a shortage of mediciens, food supplyes etc.
    4., Therefore the SA is declining in ionternational standiong, to the detriment of the nation.

  10. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, registered a cautious welcome to VP Biden’s suggestion of direct talks, but with the stipulation that the US tone down its rhetoric. Now we have Ahmadinejad weighing in as well. The Iranian leadership at times appears to be divided over several issues, so it is hard to tell if anyone making any statement is doing so at the behest of, and representing the thinking of, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose decisions are the only ones that count.

    What is clear is that all three–Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Salehi–appear to be in synch on this issue at this particular time. That has not always been the case, and it may not always be the case in the future. Reading the Iranian leadership is very much like the old Kremlinologists trying to read the Soviet leadership by parsing statements and seeing who appeared on the reviewing stand for the annual Mayday parade.

    • I’m sure that domestic Iranian politics require some chest-thumping about the Great Satan before one can plausibly suggest negotiations.

      Only one of their Nixons can go to China, too.

  11. I can’t see the US ever coming to an agreement with the current Iranian regime. The nuclear issue is largely an excuse and boogyman to frighten the public into supporting the US sabre-rattling, the underlying reason they will not rest until the government in Iran is overthrown is because of the humiliation of the US embassy hostage crisis decades ago. An event the great mass of Americans have little more memory of than their government’s earlier overthrow of Iran’s sole democratically elected government and the US-imposed rule of the Shah (which in turn led to the Islamic revolution and the US hostage crisis).

    Empires cannot abide such humilations, they cannot let what they see as an upstart nation like Iran thumb it’s nose at them and get away with it. They will use any means at their disposal – economic sanctions, funding anti-government terror groups, targetted assassinations, possibly even war – to ensure the regime in Tehran falls, and they don’t care how many innocent civilians suffer and die in the process.

    • Indeed. Nixon had his own reasons for the China tri: The longstanding Cold War required another implementation of the “divide and rule” policy! China friend USSR foe. I do not see any parallels here either. The closest may be US-Cambodia or US-North Korea. Not very encouraging.

      • “Indeed. Nixon had his own reasons for the China tri: The longstanding Cold War required another implementation of the “divide and rule” policy! China friend USSR foe.”

        Nixon’s opening to China was not a case of “divide and rule.” Far from it. In fact, both the Chinese and the US saw the Soviet Union as a threat, and both saw it in their interest to establish a friendly relationship. China, particularly Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai, was as eager to have the relationship as was the US.

    • This President has made nuclear reduction and nonproliferation far too high a priority in his foreign policy to dismiss that motivation as a mere pretext.

  12. ot but a must watch. A SNL skit that was not aired about the Hagel hearing and how so many Senators were sucking up to the I lobby and Israel. SNL nails it. Keep in mind that this is totally new for SNL. Lorne Micheals has made sure that on his show there has never been any criticism of the government of Israel or of the I lobby. A start with this skit that was cut instead they had a very boring but non offensive skit that opened the show this past Saturday about the Superbowl black out. This is a must watch. Please pass on
    link to huffingtonpost.com

  13. “[Iran’s] nuclear enrichment program is for two purposes, to provide the deterrent of latency, and for the same reason that Japan suggested nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia– to preserve its petroleum as an export commodity rather than using it itself.”

    But you’re equating nuclear enrichment with nuclear reactors. Iran wants both enrichment and reactors, Saudi Arabia seeks only the latter. The U.S. objects to enrichment not reactors.

  14. I have sever doubt that the production of a nuclear bomb can be brought in secret to a point to where it can be thrown together at the last minute, and especially without the world’s intelligence services knowing very well much of the details of its production evolution.
    There is no point that can be called a ‘breakout potential’. Rather the development of a potential for a ‘breakout’ proceeds like the evolution of a acorn growing into an oak – it is gradual and continuous and begins somewhere around the point at which nuclear engineers well understand and implement enrichment of uranium to the 3.55 level and produce electric power.
    What is a ‘breakout potential’ is then a highly subjective valuation, with some, Netanyahu, I would imagine, placing the bar at a relatively primitive level of nuclear technology knowhow, and other placing it higher.

    • Moving from the peaceful use of nuclear technology to an actual bomb, or near bomb potential, requires considerable physical fabrication and actual physical testing which the world’s intelligence services could readily track, to say nothing of the IAEA.

  15. Perhaps God did not give me the wisdom to know the difference between knowing the injustices that I can change and those that I can not change. I agree a male Corporal who wears a dress and pretends to be a Colonel can not change US policy towards Iran or abolish the Federal Reserve for example.
    But it would not at all be difficult for human beings in America in leadership positions to change their policies towards Iran, or the ´Federal Reserve for that matter. In both of these cases the changes would be completely painless
    for all but a few people. Compare that with the difficulty of an industrial society transitioning to new clean energy sources and I think that a reasonable person should think
    if we Americans can not change our policies towards Iran are we Americans capable of doing anything right at all?
    Changing our Iran policy is the right thing to do and it is damned easy.

Comments are closed.