Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Realty Diplomacy

When last week the text of President Ahmadineghad’s letter was published, it did not surprise those who know a thing or two about Iran’s domestic politics. Many compared the letter with a similar letter written by Imam Khomeini in 1988 when USSR was approaching its downfall, offering another ideology based regime a solution by returning to faith. But White House of 2006 proved to be different than Kremlin of 1988. Imam Khomeini’s letter was used by all levels of government in Tehran as an excuse to approach Moscow, an act equal to blasphemy prior to that, and Moscow welcomed this opportunity to start a new era in Russia-Iran relations[1]. Ahmadineghad’s attempt has been rejected coldly so far, denying Iran’s diplomatic efforts a similar opportunity to that of 1988.

It is obvious that this letter neither in content nor in style has been appealing to the most of Iran’s intellectual society and international community. Some felt embarrassment, some laughed at it and some took advantage of it to attack fundamentalist basis of Islamic Republic. Not many voices have joined those of characters such as Madeline Albright to ask White House to use this opportunity to start a new dialogue with Iran. It also is true that many in Islamic world consider his letter a triumph. Many of its points, although not shared by majority of Iranian population, are common thoughts in the Middle East. The average people on streets and in bazaars would repeat the same points to each other. Thus it is simplistic to consider this letter as the work of a simpleton. If one believes in incentive, purpose and proper tactics in diplomacy, then one ought to analyze Mr. Ahmadineghad’s incentive, purpose and tactical advantage in doing so.

Incentive: Do President Ahamdineghad and Iranian government have any incentive to seek negotiations with USA? The answer is “yes they do”. If security is the first concern of any national government, then Iranian government has to seek guarantees from USA not EU nor Russia nor China. USA has forces on both eastern and western fronts of Iran. Its naval presence in Persian Gulf and Sea of Amman is strong. There also are plans to construct airbases in Azerbaijan. EU-3 would not be able to promise anything good enough without American signature on it. Thus Iran’s government has every incentive to negotiate with USA.

Purpose: Did Mr. Ahmadineghad want to open doors of negotiation with USA with this letter? Yes I believe he did. Many would argue that letter does not address nuclear concerns. I would argue that the first communication could not possibly address that. In the first move, Iranian government has taken the first step to approach USA without being accused of compromising national rights. It is unrealistic to expect a president to surrender in his first communication. As for the nuclear issues Mr. Rohani letter to Time was addressing the same issue offering a start point. Thus Iranian government, although in an unorthodox way, has been sincere in seeking talks to USA. Mr. Ahmadineghad’s purpose is clear. He has offered White House an opportunity for negotiations. Mr. Rohani’s letter also confirms Iran’s preliminary bid in this bargaining process.

Tactics: Why then a letter 18 pages in this style? Tactic is a strange thing. Although there are many conventional ones, but nobody stops using unconventional ones as well. President Ahmadineghad in approaching USA has a number of concerns:
- He cannot appear that he is compromising Iran, there is no political group in Iran that can do that.
- He cannot risk losing the political stability of system by angering its ultra-radical elements; the religious contents of letter could have been for his own protection.
- He cannot speak from a position of weakness; he has some good cards in his hands.

Thus a letter of this character seems to be his optimal solution for a multidimensional problem.
I believe it is not hard to see that Iranian government is ready to start negotiations with USA. Now the ball is in the White House yard. It is unfortunate that Mr. Ahmadineghad is not the perfect gentleman, and there is nothing perfect in this world. But to make it perfect in the Middle East; one needs talk to Iran, one must talk to Iran. There is a genuine opportunity for that, now, here.

[1] Just a few months later Iran bought its first squadrons of Mig-29 from Russian and since then Russian has become a major supplier of weapon, aircraft, heavy machinery and technical service to Iran.

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