As PN went to press, Iran and the United States were preparing to make significant peace offers (or at least gestures) to each other. Iran’s proposal is almost certain to include international co-ownership and joint operation of its enrichment facility, the “consortium” option rejected by the US and Britain in the past.
In this delicate situation, Israel, predictably was doing its best to provoke a wild statement from Iran that might destabilise diplomacy. Thus the threats to bomb Iran which appeared in mid-April which drew in even Israeli president Shimon Peres, who said on 12 April that if Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to back down, “we’ll strike him”.
Such talk provoked the strongest language yet from US defence secretary Robert Gates, who said on 13 April that an airstrike might: “delay the Iranian program… probably only one to three years,” but that it would certainly: “unify the nation… cement their determination to have a nuclear program, and also build into the whole country an undying hatred of whoever hits them.”
In an unprecedented outbreak of realism, Gates added: “The only way we can prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is for the Iranians themselves to decide that it’s too costly.”
The US has now become a full member of the previously five-nation (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) “contact group” negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue.
Under president Bush, the US required Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium as a precondition for direct talks (in other words, Iran would have to surrender before negotiations could begin, rather removing the point of them). Obama has dropped this precondition.
Bush also promised to continue ratcheting up sanctions on Iran so long as enrichment continued. Obama has confirmed that the US is willing to accept the idea of a “freeze for freeze”: if Iran stops adding centrifuges to its enrichment facility, the US will stop adding to the list of sanctions.
In response to these and other US initiatives, on 8 April, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a speech that was widely described as “conciliatory”, saying: “The Iranian nation welcomes a hand extended to it, should it really and truly be based on honesty, justice and respect.” A week later, on 15 April, Ahmadinejad claimed: “We have prepared a package that can be the basis to resolve Iran’s nuclear problem. It will be offered to the West soon. This new package will ensure peace and justice for the world.”
This “package” is almost sure to refer to the idea of an international consortium which PN has been reporting since issue 2497. The idea is that a group of countries could co-own Iran’s uranium enrichment facility, and jointly operate it, providing their own staff at all levels of the enterprise, ensuring that it is used only for civilian purposes. The proposal – and the Iranian government’s support for it - has been effectively self-censored by the Western media.
Whatever Iran offers, it is almost certain to be distorted by the mainstream media. It is difficult to see the US or Britain accepting the consortium proposal, despite the fact that it has overwhelming public support.
An international PIPA poll (conducted 31 October 2007 to 25 January 2008) showed 71% support in Britain (and 55% support in the US) for uranium enrichment on Iranian soil on condition that Iran allowed UN inspectors “permanent and full access throughout Iran, to make sure it is not developing nuclear weapons”. The consortium proposal offers even more international control.