Iran offers Obama nuclear negotiations – with a catch
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis
February 27, 2009, 7:40 PM (GMT+02:00)
Iranian strongman Akbar Hashemi Rasanjani sets a trap
The Friday sermon delivered by former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rasanjani in Tehran on Feb. 27 embodied an incentive and a catch for US president Barack Obama, condemned Israel and threatened Russia.
He said: "…we don't make false promises. Therefore I declare that Iran's nuclear plan is not to build weapons… and we are ready to prove it in negotiations." Indicating Israel, he said: "'You are planting a false notion in public minds." Addressing the Russians, he said bluntly that "…even if they don’t' deal with the [Bushehr] project, we can finish it on our own."
The Iranian leader closest to supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khameni had in fact issued Tehran's first explicit invitation to Obama to open direct negotiations which promised an Iranian pledge not to build a nuclear weapon.
That was the incentive. But the catch implicit in his message was picked up by DEBKAfile's Iranian experts: He was saying in typical Rafsanjani shorthand that Tehran was willing to kick off the bargaining with a pledge not to develop on nuclear weapons, provided Washington agreed to the Islamic Republic retaining the capability to do so.
This formula would reduce the Tehran-Washington talks to haggling over where to place the cutoff point in the Iranian program.
The Iranians would demand to be allowed leeway for completing a bomb within four to six months; the Americans would likely insist on halting the program two to-three years short of a military capability, and the negotiations would end in a compromise.
Rafsanjani employed this verbal tactic on the strength of the information about the Obama administration's position gained from informal preliminary Iranian-US contacts in the last two months. Tehran believes the US president needs Iran's help in the Afghan War and would therefore be flexible in his dialogue with Iran. They calculate that he would go an extra mile for the sake of showing he had managed to arrest the Islamic Republic's march toward a nuclear weapon.
Israel is adamantly opposed to this formula, certain Tehran will use it as a blind to forge ahead secretly until its clandestine bomb and warhead projects are close to assembly at short notice.
Thursday, Feb. 25, outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert commented on the launch of Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr: "We have deployed enormous efforts to reinforce our deterrence capacity. Israel will be able to defend itself …against all threats, against all enemies. I cannot say more but believe me, I know what I'm talking about."
Without referring to Israel by name, Rafsanjani responded by saying: "You are planting a false notion in public minds," in reference to the "unthinking words of the main enemies of the Islamic revolution."
But Russia, which had delayed completing the Bushehr reactor for 10 years on one pretext or another, was warned specifically: "The Russians and others should know that …even if they don't deal with the project, we can complete it on our own. But they must fulfill their promise."