Tuesday, October 21, 2003

# Posted 10:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BREAKTHROUGH IN IRAN? While skeptical, I am extremely pleased with the Iranian government's agreement to allow unfettered inspections of its nuclear program.

I expect that this important event will get spun two ways: Liberals will present it as a demonstration of multilateral institutions' ability to resolve crises without restort to war. Conservatives will respond that Iran is only making nice because it was intimidated by our victory in Iraq.

Although it would be premature to reject either of these alternatives before having all the facts, I think that both of them underestimate the ways in which multi- and unilateral approaches to international problem-solving cannot just co-exist, but can complement one another.

First of all, the apparent success of the Anglo-Franco-German team in negotiating a deal demonstrates that the unauthorized invasion of Iraq neither undermined the effectiveness of multilateral institutions nor did it provoke an unbridgeable trans-Atlantic divide (both of which the President's critics expected). In fact, as this website predicted, the decision to invade without UN approval may well have a positive effect on the existing international order.

And when I say "Europe", that includes the United Kingdom, which very much hopes to minimize the number of times that it has to jeopardize cross-Channel relations for the sake of trans-Atlantic ones. Thus, the invasion of Iraq may have facilitated the recent agreement with Iran, not by intimidating Teheran, but by motivating London, Paris and Berlin to work as hard as possible for a peaceful outcome.

Admittedly, Teheran's motives remain unknown. Have they made a strategic decision to abandon their nuclear ambitions? Are they afraid of the domestic dissent an open conflict with the West might provoke? Do they believe that the elusiveness of Iraq's WMD arsenal indicates that hiding such a program is more doable than previously thought? Or are the Iranians just plain intimidated? I wouldn't be surprised if more than one of these factors were at play.

The one regret the Europeans might have about the current deal is that allows the Bush administration to have its cake and eat it too. In other words, the US got to invade Iraq without Security Council permission but still got the French and the Germans to invest their political capital in stopping Iran. Thus, I hope that if the current arrangement comes to fruition, the Bush Administration will recognize that its allies have extended a very valuable olive branch.

Finally, what all this goes to demonstrate is that the values and objectives that the United States and Europe share are far more important than any of the inevitable divides that emerge from periodic conflagrations.

UPDATE: MD points to this Reuters dispatch which quotes Iranian NSC chief Hassan Rohani to the effect that
"We voluntarily chose to [stop enriching uranium], which means it could last for one day or one year, it depends on us...As long as Iran thinks this suspension is beneficial it will continue, and whenever we don't want it we will end it."
Also note that the French, British and German foreign ministers "greeted the agreement as an important step forward rather than a breakthrough." Apparently, Mr. Straw, Herr Fischer and M. de Villepin wanted to make clear that OxBlog has been overly optimistic.
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