(Pictured: Iran’s President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khameini.)
We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the twenty-ninth in the series.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that a new WikiLeaks cable reveals Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was eager to reach agreement on a UN-sponsored nuclear fuel swap proposal put forward in 2009. The deal fell through when Iran balked at the proposal and outlined alternative fuel swaps involving allies Brazil and Turkey. But the six nations — the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany — said the offers fell short of their demands.
The cable, which the AP says was made public on Tuesday by WikiLeaks (though it has yet to appear at last check), makes clear that while Ahmadinejad was keen to hammer out some sort of agreement with the parties involved, the Iranian president “faced internal pressures from hard-liners who viewed it as a ‘virtual defeat,’” which ultimately killed any chances of a successful outcome.
In point of fact, the cable in question — which relates the contents of a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about the Iranian situation — has been publicly available for about a week. The Spanish newspaper El Pais published it, along with an accompanying article, at the end of December. The dispatch further complicates conventional wisdom concerning the nature of the Iranian regime and their foreign policy outlook on matters of international security.
Among other interesting observations, the cable reports that the Iranians put greater stock in the American pledge to honor a fuel swap agreement than their ally Russia, and that they held deep reservations about negotiating with the British. Still, according to Davutoglu,
the Iranians: a) are ready to send a delegation to Vienna to work out the specifics on this proposal; b) have given their “full trust” to Turkey; c) continue to face serious domestic problems inside Iran. He said the Turks actually see Ahmadinejad as “more flexible” than others who are inside the Iranian Government. Ahmadinejad is facing “huge pressure” after statements from some P5 members to the effect that a nuclear deal would succeed in weakening Iran’s nuclear capability — which is interpreted by some circles in Iran as a virtual defeat.
As a result, the issue boiled down to one of public relations.
The Turks had asked Ahmadinejad if the core of the issue is psychological rather than substance. Ahmadinejad had said “yes,” that the Iranians agree to the proposal but need to manage the public perception. Accordingly, the Iranians are proposing that the first 400 kilos be transferred to Kish Island — thereby keeping it on Iranian soil — and would receive right away an equivalent amount (30-50 kilos) of enriched fuel. The second stage would focus on the management of Iranian public opinion, after which Tehran would proceed with the Turkey option for the remaining 800 kilos, probably in two tranches.
In the event, this offer, among other the Iranians proposed, proved a bridge too far for the six nations across the table to accept. The talks broke down, and were only reinitiated this past month in Europe.
But what is most intriguing about the recently WikiLeaked cables concerning Iran has been the portrait emerging of Ahmadinejad. Lost in the hullabaloo of his being smacked in the face by the head of Iran’s revolutionary guard was the description offered in the cable of the Iranian president’s moderate disposition — the cause of the assault itself. Regardless of the motivations driving Ahmadinejad, it appears from these cables that political realities are forcing the Iranian leader to abandon his hard-line public rhetoric in private, which offers a small source of hope moving forward.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that even were Ahmadinejad to emerge as a reliably reasonable interlocutor in multilateral negotiations, it would scarcely matter. After all, the real power in Iran resides with the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Regrettably, the Supreme Leader continues to signal contentment with the kabuki theatre politics that have characterized US-Iranian relations since George W. Bush delivered his famous “axis of evil” speech — effectively destroying any hopes of constructive dialogue between the two countries after 9/11 — as the intrigues of bureaucratic infighting iron themselves out in Tehran. And all the while, drumbeats of war continue thudding softly but steadily in support of the lunatic calls for airstrikes against Iran, demands that grow shriller by the day.