Saturday, February 24, 2007


Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford, answers:

After a meeting with the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader’s chief foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, declared last week that suspending uranium enrichment is not a red line for the regime — in other words, the mullahs might be ready to agree to some kind of a suspension. . . .

The mullahs are keen on damage control on another front as well. After his meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei, Mr. Velayati announced that the Holocaust is a fact of history and chastised those who question its reality. Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, also declared the Holocaust a “historical matter” to be discussed by scholars (and not, he implied, by ignorant politicians). In short, there is a new willingness among the Iranian political elite to avoid the rhetoric of confrontation and to negotiate.
. . . .
The mullahs have historically shown an unfailing ability to smell out and, when pragmatic, succumb to credible power in their foes. Indeed, the presence of the American ships has helped encourage them to negotiate. But no less clear is the fact that the mullahs’ attitude change began in late December, when the United Nations Security Council finally passed a resolution against the regime in Tehran.

The passage of the resolution hastened the demise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s confrontational approach to the West. And the falling price of oil, leading to declining revenues for the regime, magnified the resolution’s economic impact. Top leaders of the Islamic Republic, from Ayatollah Khamenei to Mr. Rafsanjani, have made it clear that they consider sanctions a serious threat . . .

I agree with the basic analysis. However, I think these few bon mots are the mullahs' attempt to manipulate the West into reopening negotiations without more economic sanctions. And as I noted in another post, there is a good probability that many nations, motivated by their own profit margin, will quite cynically take them up on the offer.

Much more pressure will need to be applied before Iran stops its march towards a nuclear arsenal. Whether this will ultimately end in a military confrontation is, I think, critically dependent on the ability of the West to impose meaningful sanctions outside of the Security Council and to do so in the near future.

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