Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


After Iran Nuclear Talks, No News Is Good News

But already tension emerges between negotiators and Israel

Print Email
If you believe Catherine Ashton and Saeed Jalili made substantive progress, then they have got a bridge to sell you.(Tolga Adanali/AFP/Getty Images)

The New York Times’ Steven Erlanger is a good journalist, so when he writes a report that at times reads like Lewis Carroll, it’s safe to chalk this up not to poor (or intentionally funny) writing but rather to the Wonderland-like quality of what is being described. The Iranian nuclear talks Saturday did nothing but achieve plans for more talks, in Baghdad in six weeks—which meant they were “without question a success.” The important thing, diplomats tell him, was to test Iran’s seriousness, and Iran came out looking serious—“that was a low bar to hurdle and represented no real breakthrough, and there were no negotiations here on specific steps or proposals.”

The one bit of “news” to be found (or at least that I was keen enough to find)? Chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili apparently spent 90 minutes with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the other side, trying to get some sanctions removed—a sign that the regime recognizes the threat of a crumbling economy and collapsing currency. His request was denied—a sign of the resolve not just of the West but of Russia and China too.

The next question is how well Iran, beset by internal splits, and the alliance ranged against it respectively hold together over the next six weeks. Already, potential signs of a rift have appeared between—you won’t guess this—the United States and Israel. The White House called the talks a “positive first step,” which was de rigeur if you were one of the P5 +1 (the U.N. Security Council members and Germany) represented at the talks. But if you’re Prime Minister Netanyahu (whose country is not a member of the P5 +1 and most certainly was not invited to the Turkey-hosted affair), you see Iran reportedly requesting explicitly the obviously implicit promise that no attack be made on its facilities while talks are underway, and you complain, “My first impression is that Iran has received a gift.” And then if you’re President Obama you might fire back, “So far at least we haven’t given away anything, other than the opportunity for us to negotiate and see if Iran comes to the table in good faith.” This masks (barely) a disagreement over the efficacy of engaging a regime that time and again has proven intransigent and which has almost sociopathically used the facade of negotiations to buy itself time.

Real talk: the can is being kicked down the road. Iran has not reached the U.S. threshold point yet, and as long as it hasn’t, there are options and possibilities that exclude military action—further disruption, whether by covert sabotage, sanctions, assassinations and the like; the possibility of a change within Iran; an actual diplomatic breakthrough; something we haven’t even thought of. Once the threshold has been reached or once Israel attacks, everything changes, and lots of those possibilities become closed off (even as others surely become opened up). The administration has determined that a military attack is premature, and it knows Israel will look exceedingly bad in world opinion if it attacked Iran while Iran was ostensibly engaged in talks; it also knows that the November election makes for an interesting milestone. Given all this, it has decided that continuing talks, even for the sake of continuing talks, provides its own reward.

If you broadly agree with the administration on the wisdom of attacking Iran, as I do, this all sounds pretty good. And then you read that Iranian officials were present at North Korea’s (failed, as it turned out) warhead launch. At the least, things like that put tremendous pressure on the notion that Iran’s nuclear program is purely peaceful. At the worst, it suggests that the problem is more urgent than the news out of Istanbul, where talks supposedly accomplished something by accomplishing nothing, seems to say.

At Nuclear Talks, Iran and 6 Nations Agree to Meet Again [NYT]
Iran Demands U.S., Europe Hold Off Attack As Long As Nuclear Talks Continue, Sources Say [Haaretz]
Obama: U.S. Has Offered No ‘Freebies’ to Iran [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

I suggest the editors, contributors and readers of Tablet Magazine watch the following…

“Signature Lecture: Iran and the West: A Dialogue of Ambassadors”

I repeat…

The circuit breaker is for all the parties to agree now to attend a reconvened NPT Conference to be held in Jerusalem by the end of 2012. A twelve year program can be mapped out. All Israelis and Jews worldwide will benefit from a successful conference. The win-win idea here is not a cliche.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

After Iran Nuclear Talks, No News Is Good News

But already tension emerges between negotiators and Israel

More on Tablet:

11 Non-Jewish Celebrities—and 2 Jewish Ones—Show Off Their Hebrew Tattoos

By Marjorie Ingall — You don’t have to be Jewish to sport Hebrew ink. But some of these stars should have thought twice before going under the needle.