Sunday, September 20, 2009

In a 1962 episode of “The Twilight Zone,” aliens land on Earth, promising peace. Willing humans go back to their planet, where the aliens claim they seek to serve man. At the United Nations, they leave a copy of a book — titled “To Serve Man” — which a linguist undertakes to translate. Successfully doing so, she rushes off to stop the next group of humans waiting to board the spaceship, warning them not to go. “To Serve Man,” she shouts, is a cook book! The alien world is a fool’s paradise.

The moral of the story is clear: Oftentimes people hear in a message what they want, failing to listen to what is really being said.

With this caveat, we need reflect on Iran’s recent proposal for discussions with the West to establish peace and stability in the region. On Sept. 9, Tehran issued a five-page plan — one silent about ending its uranium enrichment program but claiming a “readiness to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations aiming at acquiring a clear framework for cooperative relationships.”

I hope that in reviewing the proposal, President Obama heard the resounding words, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!” He cannot ignore Tehran’s bravado in the aftermath of an earlier feint of willingness to negotiate a halt to its nuclear program — a feint used only to buy time to expand it. In examining Iran’s march to develop nuclear weapons, one can see that it moves along a road of diplomatic deception.

The Persian word for deception is “taqiya” — saying one thing but meaning another. It originated centuries earlier in an Arab world dominated by Sunni Muslims; minority Shi’ites used it in their struggle for survival, achieving by deception objectives that otherwise were unobtainable. In a 21st-century world, taqiya results in conflicting assessments by Westerners as to what Iran’s Shi’ite leaders actually are negotiating.

Oftentimes in police work, a crime is identified only because a perpetrator’s ego rises above his concern for remaining silent about his accomplishment. The same is true of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani. Leaving office in 2005, he boasted how, during his two-year tour, he had deceived the Western powers. In his recent book “The Rise of Nuclear Iran,” author Dore Gold details how Mr. Rowhani bragged, “When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan.” (Isfahan is where the fuel conversion for Iran’s nuclear weapons program took place.) The Isfahan project had not yet begun when talks with the Europeans had, but it was completed while those talks continued.

Mr. Gold explains Mr. Rowhani’s diplomatic deception: “Thus, while Rowhani sat at the negotiating table, participating in the first trial run of the West’s engagement with it over the nuclear question, Iran quietly moved from having no uranium conversion capability whatsoever to actually completing its clandestine conversion plant.”

As further evidence of Iran’s deceit, Mr. Rowhani’s success was achieved not under current Islamic extremist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but under purportedly moderate President Mohammad Khatami, who supposedly was seeking better relations with the West at that time. He wasn’t — Iran made us believe otherwise, artfully employing diplomatic deception to play us for fools.

With Tehran most likely less than a year away from the finish line in its race to achieve nuclear weapons capability, why would it choose to negotiate now — as it enters the home stretch — to stop its program? It hasn’t — Iran again only seeks to buy what little remaining time it needs to make its nuclear weapons program a fait accompli.

There will be two developments from this proposal. First, of the six nations receiving it — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — China and Russia will continue to block any additional U.N. sanctions. Second, Iran will continue its march to achieve a nuclear weapons capability through diplomatic deception.

While Washington will engage Tehran in talks, only a fool enters them optimistically. Those talks will fail, leaving the United States to decide if Iran’s final run to the nuclear weapons finish line will be an unencumbered one.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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