On February 22, 1946, George Kennan sent the State Department a 5000-word analysis of Soviet-American relations. That telegram was the basis for a Cold War strategy that lasted through the end of the Soviet Union and avoided the worst possibility, nuclear war.
Kennan based his analysis on his study of and experience in the Soviet Union. Most of his career in the State Department, by then amounting to a bit more than a decade, had been spent in or near the Soviet Union. His passion was Russia. He spoke Russian fluently.
We need that kind of expertise and wisdom today with regard to Iran. The containment strategy Kennan espoused in that telegram and related papers still makes a lot of sense:
the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.
Applying it, however, requires specifics that we don’t have for Iran.
The reason we don’t is that we haven’t had an embassy in Tehran since 1979, unlike Kennan’s post in Moscow. We don’t have exchange programs for education or science or culture, unlike those we had with the Soviet Union. We have isolated ourselves from Iran, and Iran has isolated themselves from much of the outside world.
So we don’t know Iran’s intentions for its nuclear program. We try to winkle out some understanding from statements of the leaders and scraps of information from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. We ask former inspectors for their opinion. Israel assembles information, surmise, and fear into threats.
For its part, Iran conveys conflicting messages. It has now refused twice in a month to allow IAEA inspectors to visit the Parchin site, where, some information indicates, there may be facilities suited to the development of nuclear weapon design. But the Supreme Leader states
The Iranian nation has never been after nuclear weapons and it will never go after such weapons. The Iranian nation will prove to the world that nuclear weapons do not bring about power. The people can shatter the kind of power that is based on nuclear weapons by relying on their talents and their human and natural capacities.
The official Fars News Agency reports, amid statements of peaceful intention,
Iran is prepared to share its nuclear knowledge with the countries willing to use the technology for peaceful purposes and in line with their national interests, Vice-Chairman of the parliament’s Energy Commission Nasser Soudani said on Tuesday.
“Mostafa’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of Israel,” Fatemeh Bolouri Kashani told FNA on Tuesday.
Bolouri Kashani also underlined that her spouse loved any resistance figure in his life who was willing to fight the Zionist regime and supported the rights of the oppressed Palestinian nation.
Iran’s 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Behdast, a chemistry professor and a deputy director of commerce at Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was assassinated during the morning rush-hour in the capital early January. His driver was also killed in the terrorist attack.
Mehr News, another official Iranian outlet, says that talks with IAEA will continue, while defending Iran’s right to bar the inspectors from Parchin. Meanwhile, Israelis expect their government to attack Iran, and most Americans believe that Iran already has nuclear weapons.
Iran has been keeping up a stream of bombast (we will strike first, we will stop oil deliveries to France and Britain) even as it presents its willingness to negotiate, which it confirmed officially only last week, six months after the invitation from the European Union.
What to make of all this? It’s not extraordinary for bombast and maneuvering to accompany agreement to negotiate. And refusal to open sites may have to do with looking strong as much as with forbidden experiments. But at some point, if a country is serious about negotiations, some small concession must be made. Or do the Iranians believe that any interaction with the IAEA is a concession? Upcoming elections in Iran complicate the matter. Differences within Iran’s government may require a strong stand toward the outside world. Or would they even want to provoke an attack on Iran to win popular support?
We don’t know how decisions are made within Iran, what the government’s intentions are, and the status of its nuclear program. And conservatives in Congress are agitating for even less contact: the heck with negotiations, tell ‘em what we want or we’ll bomb ‘em.
There’s too much we don’t know about Iran, and we’re not going to make up that deficit any time soon. Iran isn’t making that any easier, but neither did the Soviet Union. Negotiations can help us to learn more, and negotiations might even build trust. We have at least a couple of years before Iran is likely to have a nuclear weapon, and the purpose of diplomacy is to buy time, to extend that deadline. Maybe we can learn something.