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January 14, 2020

US-Iran talks


January 14, 2020

The offer to Iran for talks is both encouraging and interesting. Encouraging, because if carried forward it may result in some long-awaited dialogue between the two foes that have been at loggerheads for over four decades now. It is interesting too, because just a couple of weeks ago President Trump was all a fireball against Iran, refusing to listen to any sensible advice from his own European friends; and now suddenly the president invites Iran to sit together and talk. What is more perplexing than interesting is that the offer is unconditional and can start anytime without any groundwork before the negotiations. As expected, Tehran is a bit reluctant, though its position has weakened considerably after that ghastly missile attack on a passenger plane, which Iran termed a ‘human mistake’. Even after that much loss of life, the American reaction has been relatively subdued rather than loud.

The primary condition put forth by Iran before any talks is the lifting of sanctions. Though Iran has been repeatedly saying that it is interested in easing tensions and de-escalation of the crisis, it has not been as forthcoming as the US has turned out to be in the past few days. Perhaps this American eagerness to talk is the result of – as US Defence Secretary Mark Esper put it – the feeling that the US is more secure after Soleimani’s assassination. Esper has reiterated Trump’s resolve to ‘sit down and discuss without precondition, a new way forward’. Both Esper and Trump have clarified that this offer of talks is primarily to ‘help Iran become better’. Now this kind of rhetoric raises more questions than answers. We have seen in the past that the policy of President Trump has been fickle and unpredictable, in the sense that you can never be sure when a ‘U-turn’ is in store for you.

For example, let’s take the case of North Korea. There were talks and then threats and then talks again; and now nobody knows whether those talks were of any use or they were just gimmicks to draw world attention and get some media coverage. With this kind of tendency on display from President Trump, the world needs to take any utterance from him with a pinch of salt. If the US is in fact as eager and honest as it tries to appear, there must be some preparation before the summit talks. They should perhaps start ministerial-level discussions resulting in some give-and-take. Without such serious groundwork, the talks are likely to falter as has been the case with North Korea.

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