The U.S., along with its European allies, Russia, and China have reportedly reached a "substantial agreement" on Iran's nuclear, promising incentives if Tehran cooperates, and penalties if it does not. Details of the accord have not been revealed. One source told Reuters that Iran may be given only a few weeks to accept the deal, or face possible sanctions.
I'll withhold judgment until I actually review the agreement. The idea of a short timetable sounds promising--although Tehran will do all it can to stretch out negotiations (and potential compliance) over a period of months and years. But the most serious concerns lie in such issues as inspections, verification and potential penalties. Carrots are fine, but the international community needs to offer some serious "sticks" as well; otherwise, the proposed deal will be dead on arrival, and Iran's nuclear efforts will continue unfettered.
Iran has summarily dismissed a U.S. proposal for direct talks on its nuclear program, describing it as a propaganda ploy. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice had indicated that the United States was prepared to enter negotiations with Iran--on the condition Tehran abandon its uranium enrichment efforts and submit to inspections to verify compliance.
The Iranian rejection was speedy--but hardly surprising. Tehran has previously rejected similar demands from the Europeans, one reason that nuclear talks between Iran, Germany, France and Great Britain have stalled. Tehran views its "right" to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel as "non-negotiable," although that process could lead to nuclear weapons.
Iran's rejection came on the eve of scheduled talks in Vienna, aimed at hammering out a "final" U.S.-European proposal on the Iranian nuclear issue. The resolution, as described to the Associated Press, calls for the imposition of unspecified sanctions under the UN Charter, if Iran fails to comply. However, the measure reportedly avoids language that could trigger a use of force against Tehran if it continues its nuclear program.
The Iranian regime has little to fear from that process. Both Russia and China have expressed misgivings about sanctions, so there's no guarantee that the UN will actually "punish" Iran for its nuclear development efforts. That's tantamount to a green light for Tehran's nuclear program; afterall, there's no reason to talk to the U.S., if you can sustain current efforts--with only the slightest chance of punishment by the international community.
Undeterred, the U.S. and its European allies are pressing ahead with diplomacy. The current line of thinking goes somewhat like this: if we offer enough "incentives," we can get them to the table, and eventually get around to hammering out a nuclear deal. Such thinking is not only myopic, it's also very dangerous.