The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Good news on Iran?

January 11, 2010 is reporting that Iran is suspending its uranium enrichment program for two months. This news arrives amidst a flurry of other related reports about Iran and its nuclear program.

Many political pundits have been blasting the Obama administration for its “total dud” diplomatic efforts towards Iran, noting that the U.S. deadline for Iran to make a deal about uranium enrichment elapsed in December. During the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama repeatedly said he would talk to Iran without preconditions.

Did Obama say what would happen if the talks failed to produce results?

Is there any reason to believe the talks might still succeed?

Yesterday, General David Petraeus reminded the world what could happen if negotiations fail — Iran could “certainly be bombed” if necessary:

“It would be almost literally irresponsible if Centcom were not to have been thinking about the various ‘what ifs’ and to make plans for a whole variety of different contingencies.”

I doubt this comment was made flippantly as it echoes statements Senate candidate Obama made as far back as 2004. In 2007, Obama said “I don’t think the president of the United States takes military options off the table.”

The U.S. has also been talking about expanding the sanctions against Iran, though Chinese (and European) reluctance has made that threat seem perhaps even less credible than the idea of a U.S. strike on Iran.

I do not think Iran has been bullied into making an important concessions, but I do suspect that the Iranian government realizes the gravity of the situation. As Marc Lynch noted at the end of December, even the New York Times recently ran an op-ed calling for strikes against Iran. U.S. military leaders for some weeks have been saying that they do not see good military options vis-à-vis Iran and they support ongoing diplomacy. However, of course, they acknowledge their preparation to implement military options if the President orders their use.

Laura Rozen reported over the weekend that Iran has made a new offer in the ongoing negotiations:

While the Obama administration has stepped up talk of expanding sanctions on the regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iranian news reports and U.S. official sources say that Iran has recently returned a formal counter offer to swap low enriched uranium, or LEU, in exchange for nuclear fuel cells produced in the West…

One source told POLITICO that an agreement between Iran and the “P5+1” – as the group composed of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. is known – could be announced in “the very near future.”

Reportedly, the deal would ship LEU to Turkey rather than Russia, as the west proposed. However, the key point is that Iran would be left without enough nuclear material to construct a bomb — thereby creating more time for additional negotiations on broader issues.

That seems like a good deal for now.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.