Until a few days ago, Iran's nuclear ambitions appeared destined to become the hottest issue in the current American presidential campaign. A consensus, cutting across partisan divides, appeared to be taking shape that the Islamic Republic should be confronted forcefully, contained, and in time, forced to scale down its ambitions.
However, with the publication of the new American National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) claiming that Tehran had stopped the military aspect of its nuclear programme in 2003, most presidential candidates find it hard to sustain a tough position on the Islamic Republic.
This has enabled the usual suspects of appeasement to return from the woodworks to urge "a negotiated settlement."
In the past few days, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has broken her silence to call for negotiations with Tehran. One wonders why the administration to which she belonged failed to secure any concession s from Tehran through negotiations.
We have also had former United Nations' Secretary General Kofi Annan coming out of the purdah to call for negotiations.
In this, Annan has echoed former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Bzrezinski, who has called for a "grand bargain" with the Islamic Republic.
This new wave of negotiationism, to coin a phrase, is based on a mixture of false assumptions and bad faith.
The first false assumption is that the new NIE proves that the Islamic Republic has stopped the military aspect of its nuclear programme once and for all. The NIE, however, makes no such claim. All that it claims is that the Islamic Republic stopped its programme in 2003. Whether the programme was revived after that date is not a topic that the new NIE tackles.
The only visible sign of the decision to stop the programme was the suspension of uranium enrichment. That decision was reversed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad soon after he was sworn in, and uranium enrichment was resumed at a faster pace.
In other words, even if we accept the NIE's claim that the programme was stopped in 2003, something that we have no reason to do, there is no evidence that it has not been resumed.
There is, in fact, quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.
As already noted, the uranium enrichment project has been resumed and continues at much faster pace.
•According to official estimates in Tehran, allocations for the nuclear programme have risen by almost 40 per cent.
•The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that all of Iran's known nuclear sites remain in full operation.
•The IAEA also reports that it has no access to a number of other industrial sites in Iran that may well be linked to the nuclear programme. In other words, we know what we don't know but don't know what we don't know.
The negotiationists forget that the EU3, Britain, Germany and France have been negotiating with the Islamic Republic on this issue for almost a decade. During his term as British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw visited Tehran more than any other capital outside Europe. Javier Solana, the EU's chief foreign policy official, has spent more time talking to envoys from Tehran than diplomats from any other nation. Tehran has also been engaged in negotiations with the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council plus Germany.
Not only do they ignore the history of negotiations with Tehran, the appeasers also refuse to state clearly what it is that should be negotiated. In other words, they put process in place of policy. Talking about what to do becomes a substitute for doing what needs to be done.
The Islamic Republic, of course, would love to talk to anybody for as long as it is not required to do anything it does not wish to do.
In the 1990s we termed the technique "the Shamir method" after the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhakh Shamir. Forced by the first Bush administration to enter peace talks with the Arabs, Shamir discovered one of the quirks of Western democracies: their pathological faith in negotiations. Western public opinion admires those who negotiate even though the process may lead to nothing tangible.
Thus perceived, negotiations become a fascinating game, both to play and to watch.
You have talks about talks before proceeding to establish an agenda. Once this is roughly done, you would still need weeks, if not months and years, of negotiating which item should be tackled in what order. At times, the negotiations break down. So, you will have to negotiate about resuming them. To do that you would need a "road map", taking you from the point of breakdown to that of resumption. Needless to say you would need intermediaries, practicing their talent at "shuttle diplomacy." If things get out of control and you are forced to show something tangible, you might have to attach your initials to an interim agreement. This could be a long and vague document designed to obfuscate rather than clarify, a method of drowning the fish in water. To get cheers from the party of appeasement, you might have to make "goodwill gestures", a technique for dancing around the issue. This is like a bikini that leaves everything bare except the parts that voyeurs are keen to ogle.
The negotiationists do not say what it is that one should negotiate with President Ahmadinejad.
More than four years ago, the IAEA discovered that the Islamic Republic had been violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for almost 18 years. Such a violation should have led to sanctions spelled out in the NPT itself. Instead, the IAEA decided to "negotiate" to prevent future violations. When those negotiations failed, the matter was taken to the UN Security Council which passed two resolutions demanding that the Islamic Republic stop uranium enrichment.
The Islamic Republic has ignored those resolutions and repeatedly stated that it would never abide by their key demand. In other words, the Islamic Republic is ready to negotiate, in fact would love to negotiate, provided the talks are about everything except the one thing that could be the object of credible negotiations.
The appeasers are indirectly calling on the UN Security Council to drop its one demand and enter into "unconditional negotiations" with the Islamic Republic. This means surrendering to Tehran and may or may not be a good option.
In that case the appeasers should shed their lexicon of obfuscation and admit that they are recommending unconditional surrender to the Islamic Republic.
Once they do that, they may have an even stronger point. They would be able to say that, since the major democracies have no stomach for a fight with a power, described by Mrs. Albright as " rogue regime" before her conversion to appeasement, it is better to surrender to it in the hope that it moderates its radical temperament.
Today's appeasers, however, appear to be less courageous or more disingenuous than their predecessors in the late 1930s. This is why they are giving appeasement a bad name while increasing the possibility of war by confirming Ahmadinejad's illusion that he can do whatever he likes without risking the survival of his regime.