Following the Istanbul talks on April 14, he adds, he thought the parties had agreed to such an approach, but in the May 23 Baghdad session the West seemed to backtrack, refusing to accept either Iran’s right to enrich for peaceful purposes or its own onus to accept some symbolic lifting of sanctions to authenticate the step-by-step concept. It didn’t help that Netanyahu promptly dismissed the session as giving Iran a "freebie" and reiterated his resolve that Iran should be stopped from any enrichment at all.
If Obama would accept the concessions suggested by Mousavian, could a peaceful solution ensue? The question is impossible to answer absent an actual diplomatic effort to find out. But, as Mousavian says, "Any reasonable reciprocity based on a step-by-step plan will require a gradual lifting of sanctions, otherwise reaching a compromise will be almost impossible."
The reason is the same one that Cordell Hull’s ultimatum to the Japanese diplomats ended prospects for peace between the United States and Japan in November 1941. Negotiations between nations that generate ultimatums seldom lead to peace. National honor is too highly valued a commodity for that. Thus, as America moves away from any exploration of the Mousavian formula, the two nations become more and more locked onto their collision course.
After all, Obama already has taken off the policy table any consideration of a deterrence strategy against a nuclear-armed Iran. Hence, if Iran can’t be dissuaded from its current course and Obama adheres to his warning (as he must) that he will take military steps to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, then there will be war. It seems that the Mousavian formula represents the last hope for a peaceful solution.
After Hull’s session with Nomura and Kurusu, he got a call from War Secretary Henry Stimson, who wanted to know how it went. "I handed the note to the Japs," said Hull—"almost casually," as Toland relates it. "I have washed my hands of it, and it is now in the hands of you and [Navy Secretary Frank] Knox—the Army and the Navy." Truer words were never spoken. They are words worth pondering by those involved in U.S. diplomacy with Iran.
Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His next book, Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians, is due out on June 26 from Simon & Schuster.