Friday, November 24, 2006

Henry Kissinger On Iranian Negotiations

By Henry A. Kissinger
November 24, 2006

Iran's nuclear program and considerable resources enable it to strive for strategic dominance in its region. With the impetus of a radical Shiite ideology and the symbolism of defiance of the United Nations Security Council's resolution, Iran challenges the established order in the Middle East and perhaps wherever Islamic populations face dominant, non-Islamic majorities. The appeal for diplomacy to overcome these dangers has so far proved futile.

The negotiating forum the world has put in place for the nuclear issue is heading for a deadlock, probably irresolvable, except in a wider geopolitical context. Such a negotiation has not yet found a forum. In any event, divisions among the negotiating partners inhibit a clear sense of direction.

The five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany - known as the "Six" - have submitted a package of incentives to Tehran to end enrichment of uranium as a key step toward putting an end to the weapons program. They have threatened sanctions if their proposal is rejected. Iran has insisted on its "right" to proceed with enrichment, triggering an allied debate about the nature of the sanctions to which the Six have committed themselves. Even the minimal sanctions proposed by the E-3 (the European Three - the UK, France, and Germany) have been rejected by Russia.

Reluctant to negotiate directly with a member of the "axis of evil," the United States has not participated in the negotiations, giving its proxy to Javier Solana, the European Union high representative, who negotiates on behalf of the E-3. Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced a reversal of policy. The United States - and she herself - would participate in the nuclear talks, provided Iran suspends its enrichment program while talks are taking place. But Tehran has so far shown no interest in negotiating with the United States, either in the multilateral forum or separately. This is because Tehran sees no compelling national interest to give up its claim to being a nuclear power and strong domestic political reasons to persist.

Pursuing the nuclear weapons program is a way of appealing to national pride and shores up an otherwise shaky domestic support. The proposed incentives, even if they are believed, would increase Iran's dependence on the international system that Iran's current leaders reject. The European negotiators accept the importance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. But they govern societies increasingly loath to make immediate sacrifices for the sake of the future - witness the difficulty of passing legislation on domestic reform.

Europe's leaders know that their publics would not support military action against Iran and would probably prove very shaky in a prolonged political crisis over sanctions - an attitude on which Iran plays skillfully. America's European allies have decided to opt for minimum sanctions because they hope that the mere fact of united action by the Six will give Iran's leaders pause.

The conviction expressed by some European diplomats, that Iran will not wish to be a pariah nation indefinitely and will therefore come to an agreement, is probably wishful thinking. As this becomes apparent, the European allies will probably move reluctantly toward escalation of sanctions, up to a point where Iran undertakes a confrontational response, when they will have to make the choice between the immediate crisis and the permanent crisis of letting the Iranian nuclear program run free.

The dilemma is inherent in any gradual escalation. If initial steps are minimal, they are presumably endurable (and are indeed chosen for that reason). The adversary may be tempted to wait for the next increment so that gradualism may, in the end, promote escalation and make inevitable the very decision being evaded. Russia's position is more complex. Probably no country - not even the United States - fears an Iranian nuclear capability more than Russia, whose large Islamic population lies just north of the borders of Iran.

No country is more exposed to the seepage of Iranian nuclear capabilities into terrorist hands or to the jihadist ideological wave that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, encourages. For that very reason, Russia does not want to unleash Iranian hostility on itself without a prospect of probable success. In addition, Russian attitudes toward the United States have undergone a significant change. There is a lessened commitment to strategic partnership. Suspicion has grown on both sides. The United States fears that Russia is striving to rebuild its imperial influence in what Russia calls the "near-abroad"; Russia believes that America is seeking to pressure the Kremlin to change its domestic policies and to reduce Russia's international influence.

Because of its conviction that Iran will be a formidable adversary and its low assessment of the American effort in Iraq, the Kremlin doubts that the United States has the staying power for a prolonged confrontation with Iran and chooses to avoid manning barricades on which it may be left alone. In consequence, Moscow has shifted its emphasis toward Europe and, on Iran, operationally shares Europe's hesitation. The difference is that if matters reach a final crunch, Russia is more likely to take a stand, especially when an Iranian nuclear capability begins to look inevitable, even more when it emerges as imminent.

The nuclear negotiations with Iran are moving toward an inconclusive outcome. The Six eventually will have to choose between effective sanctions or the consequences of an Iranian military nuclear capability and the world of proliferation it implies. Military action by the United States is extremely improbable in the final two years of a presidency facing a hostile Congress - though it may be taken more seriously in Tehran.

Tehran surely cannot ignore the possibility of a unilateral Israeli strike if all negotiation options close. More likely, the nuclear issue will be absorbed into a more comprehensive negotiation based on geopolitical realities. It is important, however, to be clear as to what this increasingly fashionable term implies. The argument has become widespread that Iran (and Syria) should be drawn into a negotiating process, hopefully to bring about a change of their attitudes as happened, for example, in the opening to China a generation ago. This, it is said, will facilitate a retreat by the United States to more strategically sustainable positions.

A diplomacy that excludes adversaries is clearly a contradiction in terms.

But the argument on behalf of negotiating too often focuses on the opening of talks rather than their substance. The fact of talks is assumed to represent a psychological breakthrough. The relief supplied by a change of atmosphere is bound to be temporary, however. Diplomacy - especially with an adversary - can succeed only if it brings about a balance of interests. Failing that, it runs the risks of turning into an alibi for procrastination or a palliative to ease the process of defeat without, however, eliminating the consequences of defeat.

The opening to China was facilitated by Soviet military pressures on China's northern borders; rapprochement between the United States and China implemented an existing common interest in preventing Soviet hegemony. Similarly, the shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East made progress because it was built on a pre-existing equilibrium that neither side was able to alter unilaterally. To the extent that talk becomes its own objective, there will emerge forums without progress and incentives for stonewalling. If, at the end of such a diplomacy, stands an Iranian nuclear capability and a political vacuum being filled by Iran, the impact on order in the Middle East will be catastrophic.

Understanding the way Tehran views the world is crucial in assessing the prospects of a dialogue.

The school of thought represented by President Ahmadinejad may well perceive Iranian prospects as more promising than they have been in centuries. Iraq has collapsed as a counterweight; within Iraq, Shiite forces are led by men who had been trained in Tehran and spent decades of their lives there.

Democratic institutions in Iraq favor dominance by the majority Shiite groups. In Lebanon, Hezbollah, trained and guided by Iran, is the strongest military force - much more powerful than the government over which it strives for at least a veto. In the face of this looming Shiite belt and its appeal to the Shiite population in northeast Saudi Arabia and along the Gulf, attitudes in the Sunni states - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia - and the Gulf states range from unease to incipient panic.

This may explain Ahmadinejad's insolent behavior on the occasion of his visit to New York. His theme seemed to be: "Don't talk to me about your world order, whose rules we did not participate in making and which we disdain. From now on, jihad will define the rules or at least participate in shaping them."

If that assessment of Iranian attitudes is correct, they will not be changed simply for the opportunity of talking to the United States. The self-confident Iranian leaders may facilitate a local American retreat but, in their present mood, only for the purpose of turning it into a long-term rout. The argument that Iran has an interest in negotiating over Iraq to avoid chaos along its borders is valid only as long as the U.S. retains a capacity to help control the chaos.

There are only two incentives for Iran to negotiate: the emergence of a regional structure that makes imperialist policies unattractive, or the concern that, if matters are pushed too far, America might yet strike out. So long as Iran views itself as a crusade rather than a nation, a common interest will not emerge from negotiations. To evoke a more balanced view should be an important goal for U.S. diplomacy. Iran may come to understand sooner or later that it is still a poor country not in a position to challenge the entire world order. But such an evolution presupposes the development of a precise and concrete strategic and negotiating program by the United States and its associates.

Today the Sunni states of the region - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the non-Shiite government of Lebanon, the Gulf states - are terrified by the Shiite wave. Negotiation between Iran and the United States could generate a stampede toward preemptive concessions, unless preceded or at least accompanied by a significant effort to rally those states to a policy of equilibrium. In such a policy, Iran must find a respected, but not dominant, place. A restarted Palestinian peace process should play a significant role in that design, which presupposes close cooperation among the United States, Europe and the moderate Arab states.

We must not flinch from this underlying reality.

Iran needs to be encouraged to act as a nation, not a cause. It has no incentive to appear as a deus ex machina to enable America to escape its embarrassments, unless the U.S. retains an ability to fill the vacuum or at least be a factor in filling it. America will need to reposition its strategic deployments, but if such actions are viewed as the prelude to an exit from the region, a collapse of existing structures is probable.

A purposeful and creative diplomacy toward Iran is important for building a more promising region - but only if Iran does not, in the process, come to believe that it is able to shape the future on its own or if the potential building blocks of a new order disintegrate while America sorts out its purposes.

© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Middle East: The Politics of Murder

By David Ignatius
The Washington Post
Friday, November 24, 2006; Page A41

A disease is eating away at the Middle East. It afflicts the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Lebanese, even the Israelis. It is the idea that the only political determinant in the Arab world is raw force -- the power of physical intimidation. It is politics as assassination.

This week saw another sickening instance of this law of brute force, with the murder of Pierre Gemayel, a Lebanese cabinet minister who had been a strong critic of Syria. Given the brutal history of Syria's involvement in Lebanon, there's an instant temptation to blame Damascus. But in this land of death, there are so many killers and so few means of holding them to account that we can only guess at who pulled the trigger.

I fell in love with Lebanon the first time I visited the country 26 years ago. Part of its appeal, inevitably, was the sense of living on the edge -- in a land of charming, piratical characters who cherish their freedom. Lebanon has great newspapers, outspoken intellectuals, a wide-open democracy. It has almost everything a great society needs, in fact, except the rule of law.
Many of the assassins' victims have been colleagues or people I knew as a reporter: Bashir Gemayel, Rafiq al-Hariri, Samir Kassir, Gebran Tueni. I pick up the paper some days wondering who will be next. Among my Lebanese friends, it's commonplace to speak of an assassinated father or son. These brave people live every day in the sights of the assassins. They inhabit a culture of death, yet they go on bravely, robustly -- heroically, to my eyes.

The sickness must end. The people of the Middle East are destroying themselves, literally and figuratively, with the politics of assassination. So many things are going right in the modern world -- until we reach the boundaries of the Middle East, where the gunmen hide in wait. Those who imagined they could stop the assassins' little guns with their big guns -- the United States and Israel come to mind -- have been undone by the howling gale of violence. In trying to fight the killers, they began to make their own arguments for assassination and torture. That should have been a sign that something had gone wrong.

This is a time of convulsive change in the region, and many doors are being pushed open. Syria has an opportunity to leave behind its drab Cold War trench coat and become a modern, prosperous Mediterranean nation; Hezbollah, the militia that represents Lebanon's dispossessed Shiite population, has a chance to lead its followers into political power and prosperity. But they won't realize these opportunities so long as the politics of assassination rules the region. If Syria and Hezbollah keep brandishing their power like a grenade, it will ultimately blow apart in their hands.

The Middle East needs the rule of law -- not an order preached by outsiders but one demanded by Arabs who will not tolerate more of this killing. Any leader or nation who aspires to play a constructive role in the region's future must embrace this idea of legal accountability. That is what the United Nations insisted this week, with a unanimous Security Council resolution demanding that the murderers be brought to justice.

Now the United Nations must find a way to make the rule of law real. It has chartered a special investigator, Serge Brammertz, to gather the facts and has called for an international tribunal to try the cases. It must make this rule of law stick.

But the killers always seem to win in Lebanon. That's the cynics' rejoinder, and, looking at the record of the past quarter-century, it's hard to argue otherwise. The healthy parts of Arab life keep being overwhelmed by the sickness. The more the United States and its allies try to support the forces of moderation, the more they seem to undermine them. Western ideas about democratic progress instantly produce deadly antibodies in the Arab body. The disease keeps winning.

The idea that America is going to save the Arab world from itself is seductive, but it's wrong. We have watched in Iraq an excruciating demonstration of our inability to stop the killers. We aren't tough enough for it or smart enough -- and in the end it isn't our problem. The hard work of building a new Middle East will be done by the Arabs, or it won't happen. What would be unforgivable would be to assume that, in this part of the world, the rule of law is inherently impossible.

The writer co-hosts, with Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues at His e-mail address