Friday, August 25, 2006

"Unsatisfactory" is diplomatspeak for bad, bad, bad

France gives Iran quite the tonguelashing: Foreign Affairs Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy describes Iran's refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program as "unsatisfactory".

"Unsatisfactory" is such a tepid way to describe what Iran is actually doing, which is to defy and mock the entire international community, and to continue blithely with its nuclear brinksmanship.

"Unsatisfactory." It's a term that conjures up my grade school report cards. Remember those report cards, fellow boomers?

Well, I happen to have one of mine from third grade, circa 1950-something:

Not an "unsatisfactory" among those grades, I'm proud to state. Satisfaction all around. And note that my better marks were in reading, writing, and spelling. There's a certain consistency in my life, I guess.

As there is consistency in diplomatic life. That's probably why John Bolton isn't regarded as the diplomat's diplomat; he's much too blunt for that. Diplomacy is all about nuance and appearances, about allowing others to save face while deals are cut behind the scenes.

I hope that some deals are being cut behind these dismal scenes, because there's absolutely no evidence that Iran is negotiating in good faith. Here are a few clues that there might be at least some sort of method behind what appears to be the diplomatic madness:

State Department officials, on the other hand, pressed to “keep the temperature down,” as one American put it...."The thinking was, even though we all know the Iranian response doesn’t amount to much, before rejecting it out of hand we should remember that at least two members of the group have a Security Council veto,” one European diplomat said, referring to Russia and China and their historic aversion to penalties. He referred to the strategy as “giving Iran the rope to hang itself.”

Even though diplomats--especially European ones--are not known for hyperbolic rhetoric, this "enough rope to hang itself" routine seems an exaggeration, to say the least. And speaking of exaggerations, I think the UN could give Iran an infinite amount of rope without there being quite enough for it to "hang itself." Because all of this delicate diplomatic maneuvering leads, in the best-case scenario--to what? Sanctions.

And to "weak sanctions," at that. China and Russia both have substantial economic interests in Iran, and are loathe to shoot themselves in the foot, to coin another hyperbolic metaphor (but then, I'm not a diplomat).

What are some of these sanctions China and Russia might be persuaded to get behind? Why, "a ban on travel by Iranian officials and curbs on imports of nuclear-related technology."

I am sure that the mullahs are shaking in their robes. I was probably more terrified of getting an "Unsatisfactory" on that third-grade report card than they are of whatever the diplomats might impose on them in the way of penalties.

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