Is Iran or U.S. the aggressor?

Published : Feb 24, 2012 00:00 IST

The Teheran Declaration brokered by Brazil and Turkey came to nought because Obama was not prepared for the reconciliation.

This book, published on January 24, could not have made a more timely appearance. It should provoke thought on how an educated lay person can grasp the truth behind today's news reports. Events occur against a background. Not many columnists care to describe it. Most prefer instant comment, preferably on the idiot box with its loud-mouthed, ignorant anchors and equally talented panelists. Why does not any student from our colleges of journalism do a study of the insane contest among TV channels on who is to sink lowest in arousing chauvinistic emotions in the attempt to grab TRPs?

The Hindu published on January 22 President Barack Obama's letter to Iran's officials, through three different channels, during the crisis over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, replied publicly on January 19 that America has to make clear that it has good intentions and should express that it is ready for talks without conditions.

Iran has threatened to close the strait if the United States and its allies were to choke its oil exports. Salehi remarked: Out in the open they show their muscles but behind the curtains they plead to us to sit down and talk. America has to pursue a safe and honest strategy so we can get the notion that America this time is serious and ready.

On December 31, 2011, Obama signed into law extra measures to punish Iran, which has been under sanctions for over 30 years, whereupon Iran reacted with the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.

On November 12 last year, a huge explosion destroyed a major missile-testing site near Teheran and killed General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the head of Iran's missile programme. The U.S. and its partner Israel welcomed it as a major setback for Iran's most advanced long-range programme. It entailed not only damage to property but also loss of expertise. That Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attended General Moghaddam's funeral showed how central his work was to Iran's endeavours.

The truth emerged in an article by Roger Cohen, a columnist in The New York Times. There is a new Obama Doctrine, conceived in private, executed in secrecy unlike the doctrines his predecessors publicly propounded in the past. He wrote: The Obama administration has a doctrine. It's called the doctrine of silence. A radical shift from President Bush's war on terror, it has never been set out to the American people. There has seldom been so big a change in approach to U.S. strategic policy with so little explanation. I approve of the shift even as it makes me uneasy. One day, I suspect, there may be payback for this policy and this silence. President Obama has gone undercover.

Cohen referred to the blast that killed General Moghaddam and added: Nuclear scientists have perished in the streets of Teheran. The Stuxnet computer worm has wreaked havoc with the Iranian nuclear facilities. It would take tremendous naivete to believe these events are not the result of a covert American-Israeli drive to sabotage Iran's efforts to develop a military nuclear capacity. An intense, well-funded cyber war against Teheran is ongoing. Simmering Pakistani anger over a wave of drone attacks authorised by Obama has erupted into outright rage with the death of at least 25 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] attack on two military outposts near the Afghan border. The Pakistani government has ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to end drone operations it runs from a base in western Pakistan within 15 days. Drone attacks have become the coin of Obama's realm.

He noted the strategic volte face is clear. It is a kind of Likudisation of American policy: assassinate the offender, Israeli style. It is a new doctrine that has replaced fighting terror with killing terrorists; that is, by recourse to terrorism. Hence, the presidential silence on a doctrine which cannot be owned in public.

The blasts near Teheran and the killings of scientists could not have been organised without help from the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organisation (MKO). Though it is on the State Department's list of terrorist organisations, it has enjoyed the support of influential members of the American establishment. In May 2003, ABC News reported that the Pentagon was calling for the overthrow of Iran's government by using all available points of pressure including backing armed Iranian dissidents and employing the services of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq.

Iran for talks

Iran, therefore, demands a comprehensive dialogue with the U.S. that is, not one confined to its nuclear programme. It has good reason for the distrust. It has faced a series of betrayals since the 1953 coup in which President Mohammad Mosaddeq was ousted and the Shah of Iran restored to the throne to serve the interests of the U.S. and Britain. The betrayals mounted since 9/11. Contrary to the common impression it is Iran which has sought a dialogue and the U.S. which has spurned it, preferring use of force, specifically sanctions and subversion. Therein lies the need to study carefully the background to today's news.

Alain Gresh reported in Le Monde Diplomatique of May 2007 that U.S. commandos have operated inside Iran since 2004. To create the conditions for military intervention, it constantly brandishes the nuclear threat'. Year after year U.S. administrations have produced alarmist reports, always proved wrong. In January 1995 the Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency said Iran could have the bomb by 2003, while the U.S. Defence Secretary, William Perry, predicted it would have the bomb by 2000. These forecasts were repeated by Israel's Shimon Peres a year later. Prof. Nicholas Burns at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government noted: We have not had a serious and sustained negotiation with the Iranian government in more than 30 years ( International Herald Tribune, January 21, 2012).

This book establishes to the hilt that just when Turkey and Brazil's mediation was about to succeed, the U.S. backed off and preferred sanctions to diplomacy. This brings us to the question: How is the interested layman to know the truth? How many newspapers and periodicals can he read? The problem is aggravated when the state stoops to disinformation on sensitive issues, particularly on Kashmir and the boundary dispute with China. On Iran most in our media accept the American version.

Books like this can help a lot; sadly they are all too rare on the sensitive issues, on which we have mostly chauvinistic apologetics. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and a former public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars. In 2010 he received the Grawemeyer award for Ideas Improving World Order, and he is frequently consulted by Western and Asian governments on foreign policy matters. He is author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. (reviewed by this writer in Frontline, March 20, 2008).

He explains: This book is focussed on foreign policy and, more specifically, on how the Obama administration handled the many challenges of diplomacy with Iran. It seeks first and foremost to document the events as they occurred. Second, the book aims to explain why talks did not bring about the desired results and why the pursuit of diplomacy ended up being so short-lived. It analyses the decisions of the two governments and the reasoning behind those decisions, as well as other factors that either distort or in other ways impact the decision-making process, such as lack of information, mistrust of the other side's intentions, and domestic constraints on the governments' foreign policy manoeuvrability.

The book is predominantly based on primary sources, that is, interviews with decision makers from the U.S., the E.U., and Iran, as well as with other key players such as Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Brazil, and Turkey. This includes interviews with both top government officials as well as the actual negotiations. Other primary sources used are confidential state documents of the parties involved that either were made public through WikiLeaks or were shared with me by government officials. Secondary sources, such as the writings of other analysts and news items, have also been utilised. As well as reports in Iranian newspapers in Persian.

Astonishing proposals

It begins appropriately with a recall of Sweden's Ambassador to Iran Tim Guldiman's visit to Washington in May 2003 carrying Iran's far-reaching proposals whose very range testified to sincerity. The proposal astonished the Americans. The Iranians put all their cards on the table, declaring what they sought from Washington and what they were willing to give in return. In a dialogue of mutual respect', the Iranians offered to end their support for Hamas and Islamic Jehad, and pressure them to cease attacks on Israel. On Hizbollah, the pro-Iranian Shiite group in Lebanon that Iran had helped to create, Teheran offered to support its disarmament and transform it into a purely political party. The Iranians offered to put their contested nuclear programme under intrusive international inspections in order to alleviate any fears of weaponisation. Teheran would also sign the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and even allow extensive American involvement in the programme as a further guarantee and goodwill gesture. On terrorism, Teheran offered full cooperation against all terrorist organisations above all, Al Qaeda. Additionally, Iran would work actively with the United States to support political stabilisation and the establishment of a non-sectarian government in Iraq.

What probably astonished the Americans the most was Iran's offer to accept the Beirut Declaration of the Arab League that is, the Saudi peace plan from March 2002, in which the Arab states proffered collective peace with Israel, recognising and normalising relations with the Jewish state. In return, Israel would agree to a withdrawal from all occupied territories and accept a fully independent Palestinian state, an equal division of Jerusalem, and an equitable resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Through this step, Iran would formally recognise the Two-State solution and consider itself at peace with Israel.

The overture was rejected and the Ambassador insulted for his pains. Iran is a key player in the region, especially on Iraq and Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia has its own private feud with Iran. Its King exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran: Cut off the head of the snake. Israel is another adversary.

The author holds: Although Israel believes that the only way to stop Iran is through the threat or use of force, Israel itself lacks the military ability to destroy the Iranian nuclear programme. To our regret, there is no Israeli military capability that would enable us to reach a situation whereby Iran's nuclear capabilities are destroyed without the possibility of recovery,' former National Security Council Chairman Giora Eiland warned in December 2008. The maximal achievement that Israel can accomplish is to disrupt and suspend Iran's nuclear programme,' he said, adding that Israel cannot defeat Iran'. In an even more blunt admission contradicting Israel's many warnings that it will attack Iran unless it stops its nuclear programme, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in October 2008, What we can do with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese, we cannot do with the Iranians. The assumption that if America and Russia and China and Britain and Germany do not know how to deal with the Iranians, we, the Israelis, know that we will take action is an example of the loss of proportion. Let's be more modest, and act within the bounds of our realistic capabilities.'

The U.S. seeks tactical engagement; Iran seeks a strategic one. It helped the U.S. after 9/11 on Afghanistan; both on the Northern Alliance and at the Bonn Conference where its decisive intervention helped to clinch an accord. The very next month George W. Bush cited it among the axis of evil along with Iraq and North Korea.

Dual-track strategy

Obama differs from Bush and yet is strikingly similar to him. Unlike Bush he did reach out to Iran; like him he prefers force (sanctions) to diplomacy. He is hamstrung by a Congress that is ardently pro-Israel. He initiated a policy review soon after he took office in January 2009. It was led by the envoy Dennis Ross, who is notoriously Pro-Israel, and Puneet Talwar, a senior director at the National Security Council. There were no softies on Iran, an official noted. The Ross-Talwar paper was ready in April.

The review produced a policy eerily similar to the hybrid approach presented by Ross months earlier; a strategy of simultaneously offering Teheran engagement without preconditions while ratcheting up sanctions in case Iran did not yield to American demands. The State Department called it the dual-track strategy the idea that the diplomacy and sanctions tracks went hand in hand, and could be effective only when pursued jointly. The long-standing American precondition that Iran suspend enrichment before any negotiations could begin was dropped.

On the specifics of the diplomatic strategy, it stipulated that diplomacy with Iran would be centred on the nuclear issue. Many officials recognised that significant common interests existed between the U.S. and Iran in Afghanistan, and that diplomacy might get off to a better start if these common interests were addressed early on. Both Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer publicly stressed the importance of Iranian involvement in resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, and they said the U.S. and the Islamic Republic shared mutual interests that could offer possibilities for cooperation. We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and yes, Iran, said de Hoop Scheffer.

Among the allies, France emerged as the hardliner. It rejected Iran's right to enrich uranium. The former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who advised Obama during the presidential elections, expressed sharp criticism of many aspects of the policy in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2009. He argued against preconditions and timelines for the negotiations; threats of sanctions; mentions of the use of force or regime change; or accusations of terrorism. It seems to me that we run the risk of wanting to have our cake and eating it too at the same time, of engaging in polemics and diatribes with the Iranians while at the same time engaging seemingly in a negotiating process, he told the Committee. The first is not conducive to the second.

Opinion in Iran was divided between advocates and opponents of engagement with the U.S. Some insisted on two preconditions release of Iran's assets and lifting of sanctions. Controversy over the June 2009 general elections did not help; neither did President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's abrasive rhetoric.

Enrichment concerns

On Iran's nuclear programme, a critical factor was Iran's growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU). If the LEU is re-enriched to a level of 85 per cent or more (from 3.5 percent at the LEU level), it may be converted into high-enriched uranium (HEU) that can be used to build a nuclear warhead. A simple nuclear warhead can be manufactured from approximately 25-50 kilograms of HEU, requiring the re-enrichment of approximately 1,300 kg of LEU. By the summer of 2009, Iran had amassed more than 1,500 kg of LEU.

Finding a way to get the LEU out of Iran was an important immediate objective of the Obama administration. The further away Iran was from a breakout capability that is, the technical point at which Iran would have all essential components needed to build a nuclear weapon the more time there would be for diplomacy.

The U.S. sought out Russia as a partner, thinking that once Russia was on board, China would follow suit. Eventually on October 1, 2009, officials from Iran, the P5 of the Security Council plus Germany and the E.U. met in Geneva. The U.S. focussed on the nuclear question; Iran, on other matters. These conversations lacked sincerity of purpose, Parsi writes and describes exactly how they went.

The second round was held under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on October 19, 2009. The swap proposal was on the table. The U.S. proposed that 1,200 kg of Iranian LEU would be shipped to Russia for reprocessing and then sent to a third country to turn it into fuel pads, after which the fuel would be sent to Iran for the Teheran Research Reactor. In principle, the Iranians agreed to the concept and were open to discussing it in greater detail. Iran rightly demanded a guarantee that the fuel pads would be delivered. The U.S. had suggested that the LEU could be held in the custody of IAEA, which would guarantee that no country could confiscate it. The Iranians countered by saying that if IAEA custody was acceptable to the West, then the LEU could be put under IAEA custody while remaining on Iranian soil, perhaps on the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. Moreover, instead of sending out the LEU in one shipment, the risk would be more evenly spread if it were divided into two or three shipments. For each shipment, Iran would simultaneously receive fuel pads. This way, neither side could benefit from violating the agreement. But these proposals were not acceptable to the U.S., Russia and France.

Iran's concession

Iran offered a key concession. It agreed to ship out the LEU instead of conducting a swap in Iran, but insisted, understandably, on guarantees for delivery. The IAEA's Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, who was soon to retire, mediated skilfully. Japan also intervened. On both sides hardliners chafed at any compromise. Former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi of the Green Wave and Ahmadinejad's main rival in the 2009 election said: Today it seems like we have to surrender a major portion of the product of our country's nuclear programme, which has caused so much uproar and has brought upon our people so many sanctions, to another country in hopes that they may out of kindness provide us with this (TRR fuel) basic need sometime in the future. Is this a victory? Or a lie portraying surrender as victory? On the nuclear programme all Iranians are united. But the opposition did not want Ahmadinejad to get any credit just as the BJP does not want Manmohan Singh to get any credit for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.

Now Brazil and Turkey took a hand and succeeded; only to be foiled by the U.S. On May 15, 2010, Brazil's President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, travelled to Iran to seek its agreement on the nuclear fuel swap in what was described as the last big shot at engagement. Soon thereafter, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his energetic Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, joined Lula in an effort to convince Iran to ship out its LEU. Two days later, they stunned the U.S. and the world they had a deal.

Contrary to expectations, and arguably to the hopes of some, they succeeded in convincing the Iranian government to agree to a deal based on the American benchmarks that 1,200 kilograms of Iranian LEU would be sent out in one shipment, and Iran would receive fuel pads for its Teheran Research Reactor roughly 12 months later. For a moment, it looked as if diplomacy had succeeded after all. But what could have been viewed as a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran blinking first and succumbing to American demands was instead treated as an effort to sabotage the new and higher objective of imposing sanctions. The twisted dance of hostility and missed opportunities between the U.S. and Iran that Obama hoped to end had just come full circle and all within the first 16 months of his presidency.

Brazil had a higher aim, which India must share. It wanted to break the Big Power monopoly and demonstrate that the current structures of global governance are unjust and that emerging powers should have a greater say on world affairs. A Brazilian diplomat told the author: We should reform the international system. There is a major deficit of governance in this international order. We cannot continue like this. Indeed, we cannot and must not.

But while Washington was working on getting the permanent members of the Security Council to sign on to a new sanctions resolution, Brazil and Turkey were pursuing the revival of diplomacy. For them, the fight for diplomacy was a race against sanctions. U.S. diplomats did not discourage Brazil and Turkey's diplomatic efforts, but the Americans and the French were growing increasingly worried that they might vote against the resolution. Though their votes were not crucial for passage of the resolution, a unified Council would send a powerful signal to Teheran. The U.S. strategy essentially came down to giving Turkey and Brazil a double message; efforts to convince Teheran to agree to the fuel swap were encouraged, but it was also important to impose new sanctions on Iran. And, according to the Obama administration, sanctions would actually help get the Iranians to agree to the fuel swap. While the Brazilians contended that sanctions could close the door to further diplomatic efforts', the U.S. argued that sanctions would keep the diplomatic option alive' and reduce the risk of a military conflict. Personally speaking, I think it's only after we pass sanctions in the Security Council that Iran will negotiate in good faith,' [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton said.

But the argument did not resonate. In early March Clinton travelled to Brazil to win Brasilia's support for sanctions. Even though she offered full U.S. backing of Brazil's bid to gain a permanent seat on the Council, the Brazilians would not bend. The U.S.' double talk verged on deceit. Note the bait to Brazil, which it spurned.

Obama's letter

Lula and Erdogan were armed with a letter from Obama dated April 20, 2010, a week after their talks with Obama at the nuclear summit in Washington. It bears quotation in extenso. He spelled out the important markers that any agreement would have to meet to be acceptable to the U.S. For us, Iran's agreement to transfer 1,200 kg of Iran's low enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran's LEU stockpile. I want to underscore that this element is of fundamental importance for the United States, the letter said.

Obama also presented a compromise mechanism that the U.S. had floated back in November 2009 the idea that the Iranian LEU could be held in Turkey in escrow until the fuel was delivered to Iran. It said:

Last November, the IAEA conveyed to Iran our offer to allow Iran to ship its 1,200 kg of LEU to a third country specifically Turkey at the outset of the process to be held in escrow' as a guarantee during the fuel production process that Iran would get back its uranium if we failed to deliver the fuel. Iran has never pursued the escrow' compromise and has provided no credible explanation for its rejection. I would urge Brazil to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer to escrow' its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced.

The letter spelt out three substantive points relating to the questions of quantity (1,200 kg), timing (shipped out immediately, with the fuel rods delivered a year later), and place (an escrow in Turkey). It asked Iran to send its reply to the IAEA in writing within seven days rather than to any individual state. Obama thus led Turkey and Brazil up the garden path.

For the first time, Iran's right to enrich uranium was recognised, albeit tacitly. But it was also required to give up its right to enrich to 19.75 per cent. The right was recognised only to be curbed. Iran made a concession towards the end of the first day of talks: it expressed a willingness to escrow its LEU in Turkey. Once this point had been confirmed, Erdogan decided to join the talks and flew in from Ankara around midnight on May 15. The trust deficit impeded progress.

To reassure the Iranians, the Turks showed them Obama's letter to Erdogan (which was identical to his letter to Lula) and made the case that they had Washington's interest in the deal in writing. This proved decisive in convincing the Iranians to agree to the American parameters of the swap deal. By the end of the second day of talks, an agreement was within reach. The Turks and the Brazilians had succeeded in convincing Iran to hand over 1,200 kg of LEU in one shipment in order to receive fuel pads for its research reactor within the next twelve months the same parameters Teheran had rejected eight months earlier in Vienna. The LEU, however, would not go to Russia or France. Instead, it would be put in Turkey under IAEA seal, and, if the West violated the terms of the agreement, Iran could take its LEU back.

Teheran Declaration

Lula met Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. It was clear that he endorsed the deal. The document came to be known as the Teheran Declaration. It was no more than a page and a half and contained only 10 points. The author has done a service in reproducing its substance and portions of the text.

The first clause reiterated that all states have the right, according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to develop the research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination. The clause also made explicit that enrichment activities are included in that right something the NPT did not do. The fourth clause clarified that the agreement is a starting point to begin cooperation'. The details of the agreement were spelled out in the following paragraphs:

5. Based on the above, in order to facilitate the nuclear cooperation mentioned above, the Islamic Republic of Iran agrees to deposit 1,200 kilograms of LEU in Turkey. While in Turkey this LEU will continue to be the property of Iran, Iran and the IAEA may station observers to monitor the safekeeping of the LEU in Turkey.

6. Iran will notify the IAEA in writing through official channels of its agreement with the above within seven days following the date of this declaration. Upon the positive response of the Vienna Group (U.S., Russia, France and the IAEA) further details of the exchange will be elaborated through a written agreement and proper arrangement between Iran and the Vienna Group that specifically committed themselves to deliver 120 kilograms of fuel needed for the Teheran Research Reactor (TRR).

7. When the Vienna Group declares its commitment to this provision, then both parties would commit themselves to the implementation of the agreement mentioned in item 6. The Islamic Republic of Iran expressed its readiness to deposit its LEU (1,200 kilograms) within one month. On the basis of the same agreement, the Vienna Group should deliver 120 kilograms fuel required for TRR in no later than one year.

8. In case the provisions of this Declaration are not respected, Turkey, upon the request of Iran, will return swiftly and unconditionally Iran's LEU to Iran.

It was made public at a press conference held by representatives of Iran, Turkey and Brazil. As many as 234 members of Iran's Parliament of 290 members, including the Speaker, the President's bitter opponent, supported it.

Obama chooses sanctions

No condemnation can be too severe for those who wrecked this historic accord. It was the U.S' leaders in complicity with the leaders of Russia and China; a grim reflection of the cynicism that pervades the play of global politics. Let Trita Parsi describe the deed. Unbeknownst to Turkey and Brazil, the Obama administration had secured final approval for the sanctions resolution from Russia and China only a day before Lula arrived in Teheran. A series of concessions had been made to Russia and China since early April to secure their Security Council votes for the sanctions, starting with a new nuclear disarmament treaty (START) on April 8. Immediately thereafter, Moscow signalled its support for sanctions in principle. As the deliberations at the U.N. continued, additional concessions were made, including the lifting of American sanctions against the Russian military complex; an end to NATO expansion; cancellation of the Russian sale of the S300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran; and the scrapping of the proposed missile defence shield in Europe.

This should be a good lesson for our foreign affairs community. The author aptly remarks: Between instituting sanctions and getting one bomb's worth of LEUs out of Iran, Washington had chosen the former. Analysis, like the surgeon's knife, must cut through. Why did the U.S. make such a choice? The obvious answer is that it preferred to parley after the sanctions had begun to tell. The deeper cause is America's mindset, which Obama shares fully. It is the hubris of power. The deed done, all kinds of excuses were invented and retailed to justify the action, reading the other side's motions in the worst possible way, as a senior Obama administration official put it. As agreed, Iran provided a written acceptance of the Teheran Declaration to the IAEA. Within a week Brazil leaked Obama's letter to the press.

Iran was prepared to compromise on the higher-level enrichment once the deal went through. The Declaration marked the beginning, not the end of the process of reconciliation. Obama was not prepared for the reconciliation. Sanctions were mounted.

The author's summing up is fair. The White House believed that a nuclear deal could be sold domestically only if Iran was first punished through a new round of sanctions. Only then would there be receptivity in Washington for a nuclear agreement with Teheran. Hence, any nuclear deal that came before a new round of sanctions would complicate the Obama administration's domestic challenge. A deal without punishment even a good deal simply would not be enough. The impression, right or wrong, that was created was that we could not take yes for an answer,' a former senior Obama administration official told me.

Trita Parsi is a diplomatic historian of high order. He astutely remarks: Had the agenda been wider from the outset, progress on one issue could have been used to break the deadlock on another issue. Larger agendas can provide greater manoeuvrability for creative solutions. In addition, though the fuel swap was supposed to be a confidence-building measure, it soon turned into a precondition for continued diplomacy; unless Iran agreed to the swap, no other diplomatic activity would take place.

This approach, which in essence confused the strategic goal of establishing a functioning and sustainable diplomatic process with the tactical benefit of the fuel swap as a confidence-building measure, was highly problematic. It ensured that failure to agree on what was supposed to be a confidence-building measure would lead to a grinding halt of the entire agenda of U.S.-Iran negotiations. Usually in negotiations, if one confidence-building measure does not work, another is put to the test. Confidence-building measures are not treated as the endgame of negotiations.

Obama emerges very much as a weak leader, in thrall to Congress and Israel. He never fights for what he believes in and leaves much doubt as to what he really believes in apart from holding power. Sanctions become not an aid to diplomacy but an alternative to diplomacy.

Since we hear ad nauseam about trusting Pakistan or China, President Lula da Silva's wise remarks to the author must be kept in mind by any policymaker: It's not about trusting anyone. It's about generating the mechanics under which people can prove that they deserve that trust. That's what it's about.

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