- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

With the International Atomic Energy Agency due to report tomorrow on the status of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Tehran’s defiance grows and the likelihood of achieving a peaceful resolution of the crisis seems more distant than ever. Yet, even as this occurs, elites in this country appear to be pushing for some sort of “grand bargain” between the two countries that sounds a lot like the 1994 Agreed Framework brokered by Jimmy Carter between the Clinton administration and Pyongyang, which failed to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

On Tuesday, Iranian national security boss Ali Larijani suggested that Tehran would take further steps to conceal its program from international investigators and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, raised the specter of Iran transferring nuclear technology and scientific knowledge to other nations.

“The nuclear capability of Iranian scientists is one example of the numerous scientific movements in the country…The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists,” Mr. Khamenei told a visiting rogue-state leader, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Like the Iranian government, Gen. Bashir (whose government supports the Janjaweed militia which has played a major role in the genocide taking place in Sudan’s Darfur region) says he wants a nuclear program to generate electrical power.

But the disturbing pattern of behavior by Tehran has thus far done little to discourage politicians and former government officials from suggesting that the United States can resolve the crisis by negotiating some form of “grand bargain” with the current Iranian government, in which it stops uranium enrichment (or at least pretends to) and possibly changes some of its other malevolent behavior, like supporting terrorism (although this is left vague, leaving everyone plenty of room to achieve little of substance and still declare victory). Mr. Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, who served in the current administration under Secretary of State Colin Powell, are just some of those who are touting such a deal.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, advocate negotiating with the Iranian regime. Mr. Lugar suggests that U.S.-Iran talks might focus more on energy issues than on military-related ones, and says hopefully that Washington and Tehran may find themselves on the same side. Mrs. Feinstein says that the United States “should engage Iran diplomatically,” adding that “tough diplomacy” and working together with our allies and the United Nations is the best alternative to a “premature military confrontation” triggered by the Bush administration.

To listen to such talk, one would think that we 1) have a proven record of success in negotiating with rogue regimes like Iran; and 2) that in the unlikely event that an agreement is reached, there is some way to enforce it.

One problem with the concept is that there is no coherent explanation of what negotiations are supposed to accomplish or how they would work. What concessions will the United States and its European allies be expected to make to Iran? Would it receive technological or financial assistance? Will the United States promise not to criticize the abysmal human-rights record of the Iranian government? Will we disavow the concept of democracy and regime change?

And what about Iran’s behavior? Is Iran merely required to stop enriching uranium, or would it be also be forced to accept a more sweeping IAEA inspections regime? Will Mr. Ahmadinejad agree to stop calling for Israel’s destruction and stop making statements denying that the Holocaust took place? Will Iran end its efforts to subvert Iraq and halt its support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas? These are just a few of the unanswered questions.

A central problem with the grand-bargain idea is that were any agreement to be reached, the United States would make tangible concessions right away — such as promising not to take military action against Iran. Also, with Western firms clamoring to get back into Iran, economic sanctions would almost certainly collapse. The problem, of course, is what would happen if six months down the road Iran were found to be in violation of such a deal: Most likely, Big Business would fight tenaciously against any attempt to remove it from Iran. In the end, sanctions would fall apart, and Tehran’s hostile behavior would remain largely unchanged. It would likely turn into a reprise of the 1994 U.S.-North Korean accord: Eight years after it was signed, the DPRK announced it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it declared that it possesses atomic weapons. It would be foolish and dangerous to go through this again with Iran.

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