Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks from Morocco yesterday seemed to represent a harder line on the LEU–TRR deal than the United States had taken previously:
“Acceptance fully of this proposal which we have put forth and which we are unified behind would be a good indication that Iran does not wish to be isolated and does wish to cooperate with the international community and fulfill its international responsibilities,” Clinton said. “So I urge Iran to accept the agreement as proposed because we are not altering it.”
Viewed in context, her remarks come across a little differently, but the news media — here and in Iran — naturally focused on the part that was new and newsworthy. Unfortunately, that was the words, “we are not altering it.”
Today’s response from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, was unequivocal:
“We do not want any negotiation, the result of which is pre-determined by the United States,” Supreme leader said in a speech to students on the eve of Wednesday’s 30th anniversary of the US embassy seizure by students in 1979.
“A dialogue like this is like a sheep and wolf relation, which the late imam (Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) has said that we ‘do not want’,” he said.
This may not completely close the door on the LEU–TRR deal, but it’s the first thing that Khamene’i has said on it, and he tends to get his way. The best one could say at this point is that the deal is now on life support.
As I may have remarked previously, opposition to the West and resistance to its diktat is basically the entire point of the Islamic Republic. So seeming to dictate to Tehran is a good way of shutting down a very delicate process.
It’s still possible that a small gesture could put matters back on track: one way would be to find a face-saving arrangement for LEU exports (e.g., two or three shipments, all before the end of the year, or shipment to yet another state that could hold it “in escrow”). Another way would be to make a public statement about the willingness of the United States to support IAEA Technical Cooperation activity at TRR. But maybe the most important single thing for both sides is actually to stop negotiating through public statements.
Update. President Obama’s Nov. 3 statement reads like a reply to Ayatollah Khamene’i:
Thirty years ago today, the American Embassy in Tehran was seized. The 444 days that began on November 4, 1979 deeply affected the lives of courageous Americans who were unjustly held hostage, and we owe these Americans and their families our gratitude for their extraordinary service and sacrifice.
This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We do not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. We have condemned terrorist attacks against Iran. We have recognized Iran’s international right to peaceful nuclear power. We have demonstrated our willingness to take confidence-building steps along with others in the international community. We have accepted a proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet Iran’s request for assistance in meeting the medical needs of its people. We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community.
Iran must choose. We have heard for thirty years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for. The American people have great respect for the people of Iran and their rich history. The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice, and their courageous pursuit of universal rights. It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people.
When President Obama says, “Iran must choose,” this probably should be seen in the light of the “two-track” strategy. The implication is that the time is soon coming when Iran either will step through the diplomatic door that its own leaders opened in early June, or the leaders of Western countries, and other countries besides, will move on to strategies other than negotiation.
In practice, I believe that the moment of decision is the opening of the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting, on November 26. Further elaboration on this point appears in the comments.