A key feature of the negotiations with the Iranians over their nuclear program is doublespeak. To be more precise, you’ll notice that Iranian officials offer different accounts of what they are--and are not--willing to consider. Moreover, the meaning behind their words is often left obscure.
Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Monday: “If the West wants to take confidence-building measures it should start in the field of sanctions because this action can speed up the process of negotiations reaching results.”
“If there is goodwill, one can pass through this process very easily and we are ready to resolve all issues very quickly and simply and even in the Baghdad meeting” in May, Salehi continued.
Sounds encouraging, right? (The Reuters account these quotations were taken from is titled, “Iran says ready to resolve nuclear issues.”)
The problem is that Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, rejected the possibility of trading nuclear concessions for an easing of sanctions just two days before. Jalili said that “suspending Iran's nuclear activities in return for the removal of sanctions is a literature which belongs to the past.”
And Salehi’s comments, as noted by Reuters, left it “unclear” as to whether he “was suggesting the lifting of sanctions prior to Iran taking steps to reassure the West over its nuclear activities.” The Obama administration “has said that would not be acceptable.”
So Salehi could easily be putting the cart before the horse.
According to Reuters, Salehi also “hinted that Iran could make concessions on its higher-grade uranium enrichment.” This is the issue of Iran’s 20-percent purity uranium, which gets Iran much closer to weapons-grade uranium.
Prior to Salehi’s comments, which merely “hinted” at the possibility of Iran giving up the 20-percent enriched uranium, two Iranian officials said they would not even entertain this idea. The Fars News Agency reported that the aforementioned Jalili “rejected a suspension of Iran’s 20-percent uranium enrichment” after this weekend’s talks had concluded. The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, also rejected the Obama administration’s demands as “irrational” earlier this month. Davani said that Iran would not shutter the Fordo enrichment facility, which is built into the side of a mountain on an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ base, and would continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity. Those are the two key goals put forth by the Obama administration for the talks.
We are left with at least three possibilities.
Possibility #1: The Iranians don’t have the foggiest idea what they are willing to give up, or the price they would demand for such concessions. This is unlikely given that they’ve had plenty of time to prepare for the talks.
Possibility #2: There is internal dissent within the Iranian regime and some are willing to compromise on the Obama administration’s two demands while others are not. This is a possibility, but the man doing the actual negotiating has thus far decided to side with those who are unwilling to compromise. And Salehi’s comments are soft enough that they can’t be read as a sign of firm dissent.
Possibility #3: The Iranians are employing doublespeak. Salehi’s comments are intended to muddy the waters just enough to make it appear as if the Iranians are willing to reach a meaningful compromise when they really are not.
Given the Iranians’ track record, possibility #3 seems likeliest. But time will tell.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.