Iran has embraced a Russian proposal to restart nuclear negotiations with the international community, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's political rivals may try to block the talks.
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Talks with the "sextet" – US, Russia, Britain, France, China, and Germany – have been suspended since January. The six countries want Iran to halt its uranium enrichment, which they worry is part of a plan to develop nuclear weapons. The last meeting stalled and then broke up without even making plans for a future meeting.
The details of Russia's new proposal have not been disclosed, but the Associated Press reports it is a "step-by-step" approach in which the international community would make a concession to Iran for every step it takes toward greater transparency. The Tehran Times reports that the concessions would be an easing of sanctions on Iran.
According to a separate Associated Press report, the US worked on the proposal with Russia.
“What we are looking for from Iran has not changed,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday. “We welcome any Russian effort to persuade Iran that it’s time to change course and meet its international obligations.”
Iran has resisted all calls from the international community to halt its uranium enrichment, citing its right to do so under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It insists the nuclear power is being developed for peaceful purposes, not weapons, and dismissed intelligence that implied it was working on a component of a nuclear bomb.
Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that nuclear weapons are "the means of the previous century" and no longer had any benefit, the Tehran Times reports.
"This century is the century of knowledge and thinking. It is the century of human beings. It is the century of culture and knowledge," he said. “It is about the power of people, not nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, I should say that, our goal in the country and the goal of our people, our slogan is ‘Peace for all!’ Nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none! This is our goal.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad also said that nuclear weapons go against Iranians' Muslim faith, pose a danger to their developers, "have no capabilities," and provide no benefit to the countries that have them.
“The Americans have nuclear bombs and nuclear weapons," he said. "Could they win in Iraq or in Afghanistan? Could nuclear weapons help the Zionist regime win in Lebanon and Gaza? Could nuclear weapons help the former Soviet Union avoid collapse?”
But Ahmadinejad's warm reception of Russia's proposal may not mean much if the domestic political climate, which has pitted the president against other top government and spiritual leaders, keeps his hands tied.
Patrick Disney, former assistant policy director of the National Iranian American Council now studying Iran and nuclear non-proliferation at Yale, opines in the Atlantic that any effort by Ahmadinejad to reach a negotiated solution will be blocked by his political opponents.
Many Iran experts have viewed Ahmadinejad as Tehran's most ardent advocate of negotiations with the United States. Some U.S. officials have said Ahmadinejad can't possibly be for finishing a bomb because he's more "moderate" than Supreme Leader Khamenei and more open to talks with the West....
Unfortunately, for anyone hoping the U.S. and Iran will reach a negotiated solution, Ahmadinejad is a crummy advocate to have on your side.
Ahmadinejad is a politician, and like any other politician he cares about how he will be remembered in the history books. For an Iranian president, there are few more attractive prospects than to be the man who brought Iran and the U.S. back together again. Despite the constant rhetoric and "Death to America" chants, Iran's elected politicians crave the prestige and legitimacy that a reunion with the West would bring to their country. Ahmadinejad's two most recent predecessors each tried to negotiate a rapprochement with the U.S., and both failed. If Ahmadinejad were to preside over a negotiated agreement that ushers Iran back into the good graces of the international community, he would get the credit.
Yet once again, his clerical opponents are not presently inclined to allow him any such credit. Thus, they will most likely undercut any potential realignment with the West at least until Iran's next president takes office in 2013.
But despite Iranian leaders being divided over whether to pursue weapons or talks, Mr. Disney says the US should use the next two years to build confidence so that "when the logjam breaks, we can rightly hope that it will break our way."