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September 19, 2006
French Retreat On Iranian Suspension

The French, who have remained surprisingly firm on the requirement for uranium-enrichment suspension until now, have retreated on it now. Jacques Chirac now says that Iran would not have to stop its enrichment program to get talks on an incentive package started, but could wait until talks were underway, and that's not even the retreat that matters:

In an effort to jump-start formal negotiations between six world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, President Jacques Chirac of France suggested Monday that Iran would not have to freeze major nuclear activities until the talks began.

Over the years, Mr. Chirac has consistently taken an extremely hard line against Iran both in public and private. But his remarks in a radio interview could be interpreted as a concession to Iran, whose officials have said they will not suspend their production of enriched uranium as demanded by the United Nations Security Council.

“Iran and the six countries together, we must first find an agenda for negotiations, then start a negotiation,” Mr. Chirac told Europe 1 radio. “During this negotiation I propose that on the one hand, the six refrain from referring the issue to the Security Council, and that Iran refrain from uranium enrichment during the duration of the negotiation.”

In New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, Bush administration officials insisted that the American position had not changed: that the United States would not join the talks until Iran suspended uranium enrichment. They said that the Europeans and Iranians might hold preliminary talks on suspension, and once Iran verifiably suspended enrichment, America could join those talks.

It's a small but significant erosion in the unity of the West, which has had its problems holding a firm line prior to this. Not only did Chirac suggest that negotiations could begin while Iran still operated its enrichment program, he also eschewed sanctions as a solution to Iranian intransigence. "I am never in favor of sanctions," Chirac told a reporter, stating that he's never seen them succeed.

Officials insist that the Bush administration knows about the delicate dance regarding negotiations and enrichment suspension. The White House understands that negotiators want to provide a face-saving way to get everyone to the table, including the US. They want to create a situation where Iran can claim that negotiations started before they stopped their uranium enrichment and also allow the US to claim that they didn't talk to Iran until it stopped. Those are not quite mutually exclusive states, and the diplomats want to find that narrow slice of real estate so that everyone feels satisfied that prerequisites have been met.

Whether this exercise has any use whatsoever is debatable. What isn't debatable is the French collapse on sanctions. It appears that France has joined Russia and China in opposition to enforcing UN resolutions, and has done so in betrayal of an agreement with the US. It's an almost picture-perfect replay of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq at the UNSC, and it signals that the same triumvurate that enriched itself at the Oil-For-Food feast will once again cave on enforcement with Iran and its nuclear program.

Once again, the Security Council cannot find the will to enforce its own resolutions. If Iran fails to comply, they know that the UN will huff and puff and perhaps issue a strongly-worded memo. Chirac has already signaled that the mullahs will face no real consequences from the UNSC if these negotiations produce no settlement, and one has to wonder why they'd even bother now to join talks on the subject. The US and UK need to look to other strategies to end the mullahcracy's grip on power in order to ensure that nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of millenial lunatics likely to use them.

What will this mean for the UN? After this effort collapses, expect the US to start taking a much harder line with Turtle Bay. They will have proven themselves of little use -- once again.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 19, 2006 5:33 AM

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