Much is being made over the resignation of Admiral William “Fox” Fallon from Central command after the publication of an article about him in Esquire magazine by Thomas P. M. Barnett. Those of us who are hypersensitive to signs and portents of yet another attempt at imposing democracy via shock and awe found this disturbing:
…well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way.
But Barnett is not taking account of another piece of news that emerged recently: the United States has been engaged in some serious Track II diplomacy with Iran for five years and more.
That news appears in an article by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the March 20 New York Review of Books. The article is presented as “A Solution for the US – Iran Nuclear Standoff,” which is valuable enough, but the real news is how that proposed solution developed:
For over five years, a group of former American diplomats and regional experts, including the authors of this article, have been meeting directly and privately with a group of Iranian academics and policy advisers. Some of the American members of this group believe that there is now an opportunity for discussions on the single most important issue in the US–Iran relationship: Iran's nuclear program. [Footnote 2: This group, which was organized by the United Nations Association of the USA, has drafted several joint papers for the US and Iranian governments and sought to promote direct government to government discussions on all issues dividing the US and Iran.]
William Luers is the president of the United Nations Association of the USA and is a former ambassador. Thomas Pickering was Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Clinton administration, the third highest position in the State Department, and also has been an ambassador. Jim Walsh is the nuclear expert in the trio.
Given the proclivities of the Bush administration to withhold contact from the countries it considers enemies in the way that frat boys ignore nerds, this is big news. Serious Track II diplomacy has continued with Iran for most of the Bush reign.
Track II diplomacy is carried out by those not officially designated as diplomats. In another example, Track II has been ongoing with North Korea via the efforts of Siegfried Hecker and his colleagues. It is a way of keeping channels of communications open and exploring ways of improving relations, along with gaining information on strengths and weaknesses. While neocons safely fulminate in Washington’s offices, Track II people visit the countries and discuss the issues with their counterparts.
The centerpiece of the NYRB proposal is to internationalize the enrichment facility at Natanz. The authors refer to their proposal as the “second-best alternative, instead of the worst.” They argue their case and its pros and cons well. The presence of scientists and others from the European countries that have been carrying the official talks would place additional barriers to development of weapons-grade enrichment capability. It would also support the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty’s promise of the availability of peaceful nuclear technology and might help to move toward a more general internationalization of enrichment, reprocessing and fabrication capability. These are the capabilities that can too easily be turned to weapons production, and Natanz’s enrichment would remain within Iran, subject to expulsion of the international participants and observers.
The release of the NIE findings last fall, the NYRB proposal and Admiral Fallon’s words to Barnett all may be motivated by concerns that that strong voices in the administration continue to advocate in favor of forcible regime change for Iran. But as these findings and activities are made public, that agenda becomes less tenable.