U.S. accepts offer from Tehran for broad talks

U.S. accepts offer from Tehran for broad talks

The United States has decided to ignore Iran’s refusal to discuss its nuclear program and instead accept a vague Iranian plan for talks on security issues as the opening gambit to draw Tehran into real negotiation.

The effort to “test” Iran’s intentions, announced on Friday, came after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his country is skeptical of the need for new sanctions on Iran, giving the Americans little choice but to treat seriously Iran’s latest offer.

Iran this week ruled out talks on its program, instead offering a five-page plan that it said would lay the groundwork for peace and stability in the region. The document, first posted Thursday on the Web site of ProPublica news service, made no reference to international demands that Iran suspend its efforts to enrich uranium, but did mention ending proliferation in nuclear weapons as well as a broad offer of dialogue. [continued…]

Why Washington should welcome Iran’s broadening of the agenda

The Iranian proposal is best understood not from the prism of the West’s focus on the nuclear program, but from the vantage point of Iran’s long standing objective to be recognized as a regional power with a permanent seat at the table of regional decision making. Iran believes it suffers from severe role deficit — though it is one of the most powerful countries in the region, its neighbors view it by and large as a disruptive, anti-status quo power and have consequently refrained from giving it access to recognized and institutionalized avenues of influence.

After all, the reigning order in the Middle East is one defined and upheld by the United States, which for the past thirty years has sought Iran’s isolation and exclusion, not its inclusion and rehabilitation. Breaking out of this isolation and forcing Washington and the regional capitols to grant Iran the role it craves have been overarching strategic goals of Iranian foreign policy for several decades now.

Iran believes that the nuclear stand-off provides it with an opportunity to achieve this objective. By broadening the agenda for negotiations, Iran takes the opportunity to discuss with the great powers matters where the views of the Iranian government hardly have been taken into account in the past. The broader aim is to institutionalize the great power’s recognition of Iran’s role and seat at the table.

Perhaps more importantly, the Iranians refuse to permit the P5 plus 1 to single-handedly set the parameters of the talks. By presenting its own proposal, Iran is introducing its own parameters. The Iranians are in essence negotiating about the shape of the table before negotiating matters of substance. This is hardly surprising. During the EU-Iranian negotiations on the nuclear issue, Tehran was immensely frustrated by Europe’s dismissal of several Iranian proposals and its insistence on solely discussing its own set of ideas and demands. By now, Iran seems determined not to let that happen again. [continued…]

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