In October 2003, the European diplomatic troika of France, Germany and Britain extracted a promise from Iran to suspend most of its nuclear work and promise “full transparency” in its dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, the EU3 offered a menu of commercial and technological incentives. Then-French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin hailed the deal as “a promising start.”
It soon became apparent that Iran had no intention of becoming transparent, as repeated IAEA reports made abundantly clear. As for the idea that Iran could be made to abandon its nuclear ambitions, then-Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was unequivocal: “We won’t accept any new obligations. Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club,” he said. “This is an irreversible path.”
So there was the first Iranian “No.” In November 2004, however, Tehran made a second deal with the EU3, this time with an even sweeter package of incentives for Iran. The so-called Paris Agreement lasted a few months, until Iran again spurned the Europeans. “Definitely we can’t stop our nuclear program and won’t stop it,” former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said in March 2005â€”a second resounding “No.”
Still, the wheels of diplomacy kept spinning, thanks to a Russian offer to enrich Iran’s uranium for it. The Iranians “studied” the proposal and even reached what an Iranian diplomat called a “basic agreement” with Moscow. But again they turned it down, on the basis that it is “logical that every country be in charge of its own fate regarding energy and not put its future in the hands of another country.” Call that the third “No.”
Four months later, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Iran had successfully enriched uranium. Over the course of the next two years the Security Council approved four successive resolutions demanding that Iran cease enriching and imposing some mild sanctions. Ahmadinejad replied by insisting that all the Security Council resolutions in the world couldn’t do a “damn thing” to stop Iran from developing its nuclear programs. That would be the fourth and clearest “No.”
Yet even as Tehran’s rejections piled up, a view developed that all would be well if only the U.S. would drop the harsh rhetoric and meet with the Iranians face-to-face. So President Obama began making one overture after another to Iran, including a videotaped message praising its “great civilization.” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei replied that Mr. Obama had “insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day.”
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