Bret Stephens believes the regime in Tehran has “treated the West the way a shark would a squid: with the combination of appetite and contempt typically reserved for the congenitally spineless.” Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he concludes the ayatollahs will never make concessions to the West on, well, anything.
Stephens cherry-picks convenient facts while ignoring others. To wit: He accurately notes that the outcome of negotiations in Baghdad was less than desirable. But his insistence on blaming only the Iranians for this failure doesn’t hold water. Early in the negotiations, Iran made clear its willingness to make key concessions, such as ending uranium enrichment up to the 20-percent level. In return, the P5+1 made clear its unwillingness to lift any of the crippling sanctions ostensibly designed to elicit exactly those sorts of concessions from Tehran. Ultimately, negotiations failed as a result of Western intransigence, not Iranian fanaticism.
In these spaces and others, experts have debunked the persistent assertion that Iran has never offered concessions to the West. Stephens fails to mention two Iranian offers to export enriched uranium to America, Tehran’s agreement on IAEA inspection protocols and a host of other instances of cooperation or dialogue.
Instead, he identifies a recurring cycle: “high hopes for a negotiated breakthrough, followed by Iran's rejection of a deal, followed by the agreement to meet again, followed by—you get the point.” But a different cycle appears to be at work: Both sides agree to negotiations, and Iran puts forth an offer. The West counters with an offer Iran cannot reasonably accept—in this case, one in which “Iran was expected to relinquish its greatest strategic asset (its stockpile of enriched uranium) without receiving a strategic asset of equal value in return.” Predictably, negotiations fail, then Western pundits decry the mullah’s obduracy without acknowledging their own failure to negotiate.
Blatant misrepresentation of the facts is enough to make Stephens’s piece a howler. His insistence on jeering “likable” diplomats for being “fleeced” by Iran also disrespects the fundamental premise—and promise—of diplomacy.