Scott Peterson writes for the Christian Science Monitor:
WikiLeaks revelations that American officials were planning to raise pressure on Iran with more sanctions and a missile defense shield – even while President Obama was making high-profile public overtures to Iran – are being seen in Tehran as validation of deep skepticism from the start about Obama’s effort.
Iranians and analysts alike say the leaked diplomatic cables show a half-hearted attempt at engagement in which the US administration’s “dual track” policy of simultaneously applying pressure and negotiating was undermined by a singular focus on the pressure track and a growing assumption that engaging Iran was pointless.
“Although the [American] gestures sounded sincere and honest, according to these documents there was at least a parallel approach to keeping both options open, though they were 180 degrees apart,” says a veteran observer in Tehran who could not be named for security reasons. “WikiLeaks indicates that from the beginning [Obama] was very sharp on this issue, and some Iranian officials … were right [in their skepticism].”
“All in all, from whatever angle you look at it, or which document you pick, the net result is further distance between Iran and America,” adds the observer. “The wall of mistrust is much thicker now than it used to be 10 years ago, and the possibility of any reconciliation is much more remote than in the past.”
The Dual-Track Approach
In his first television interview as president, one week after his January 2009 inauguration, Obama said: “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”
Yet one document shows how, barely a month later, a senior US Treasury official was sent to Brussels to reassure more than 70 Middle East and nonproliferation experts from all 27 European Union states that, despite public talk of engagement, the US “remains committed to the dual-track approach.”
Labeled “SECRET/NOFORN” – meaning not for distribution to foreign nationals – the document describes the March 3, 2009, classified briefing by Daniel Glaser, acting assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, and his request for more European measures against Iran.
“To be sure, ‘engagement’ would be an important aspect of a comprehensive strategy to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” Mr. Glaser briefed, according to the document. “However, ‘engagement’ alone is unlikely to succeed. Diplomacy’s best chance of success requires all elements combining pressure and incentives to work simultaneously, not sequentially.”
“Time was not on our side,” the document says that Glaser warned. “The international community must urgently choose between several bad options.…” The EU had “an important, but time-sensitive, opportunity to help diplomacy succeed by targeting illicit Iranian conduct.…”
That secret briefing came just 17 days before Obama made his first official diplomatic gambit. In a message to Iranians to mark the Persian New Year, on March 20, 2009, he called for a “new beginning” with Iran, in which “the old divisions are overcome.”
“There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences,” Obama said, and then quoted the ancient Persian poet Saadi, who described all the “children of Adam” as “created of one essence.”
Recognizing the significance of the US president’s words, Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei listed Iran’s many grievances against the US in a speech the next day, then asked: “They say they extended their arm towards Iran. What kind of hand? If it is an iron hand covered with a velvet glove, then it will not make any good sense.”
But then Ayatollah Khamenei added: “You change, and we will also change our behavior, too.”
The leaked cables show a determined effort by the Obama administration, however, to ratchet up pressure on Iran by convincing China and Russia --- via a Saudi guarantee of fuel supplies for China if Iran’s dried up, and a revamped European missile shield for Russia --- to vote for more stringent UN sanctions.
Even if the US had not pursued such steps, described by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at one point as aiming to impose “crippling” sanctions on Tehran, it is not clear that Iran would anyway have agreed to negotiate – or could have, considering Iran’s own political infighting.