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High Stakes on Iran and Afghanistan in Vienna

October 19, 2009

Iranian nuclear negotiators are meeting this week with their U.S., Russian, and French counterparts and officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency at IAEA headquarters in Vienna. It’s a high stakes moment for the Iranian nuclear issue.

It’s also a high stakes moment for the future of the U.S. in Afghanistan, if you take in the implication of recent remarks by the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

First, on the Iranian nuclear issue: The Vienna talks are to discuss arrangements for moving up to three-quarters of Iran’s present stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be fashioned into fuel plates and returned for Iran to use to make medical isotopes. Iran does not have the technology to reprocess the fuel plates into a weapon, so if the negotiators can close the deal, most of Iran’s existing nuclear material will be rendered not only harmless but medically useful.

A deal in Vienna this week wouldn’t be the end of the Iranian nuclear saga but it would be a giant step toward a resolution recognizing Iran’s rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty but making its nuclear program not only subject to safeguards but dependent upon international cooperation. It would be an elegant solution that could produce dividends in other areas. And this brings us to…

Gen. McChrystal and Afghanistan: Gen. McChrystal made the following remarkable statement at the Institute of Strategic Studies in London on October 1 (the same venue where he has been upbraided for saying that Vice President Joe Biden’s plan to drawdown U.S. forces in Afghanistan was unacceptable):

“Iran, of course, being, you know, in such proximity to Afghanistan and having significant influence inside Afghanistan, is a big player. They, in my view, they have a lot of very positive influence inside Afghanistan, some of it cultural, some of it financial, just things that any neighbor would have to try to build the stability. I think that if Iran takes a very mature look at a stable Afghanistan and support the government of Afghanistan, then we’ll be — we’ll be in good shape. If they were to choose not to do that, and they were to choose to support insurgents, I think that would be a significant miscalculation.”

The general’s message is simple and important: Iran can do much to help or hinder the U.S. in Afghanistan. If U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate over a failure to make progress on the nuclear issue—possibly driven in part by the Iran sanctions fever growing in Congress—the U.S. could be in for a much rougher ride in Afghanistan. It’s very much in the U.S. interest to do all it can to produce a win on the Iran nuclear issue and a win on Afghanistan in Vienna.

  1. Tom Armstrong permalink
    October 21, 2009 12:56 pm

    I think it is difficult for the United States to produce a win on any nuclear issue. We have been the only nation to use nuclear weapons and we have threatened in our Viet Nam conflict to use them a third time. It will have to be another nation that takes the lead on this issue. We have no moral force on this and no leverage other than power and force to tell Iran to do anything on nuclear issues.
    I would hope that we continue to promote the elimination of nuclear weapons (we above all others), but that is only a statement at present.

  2. Jane Stowe permalink
    October 21, 2009 9:48 pm

    General McCrystal’s comments are very enlightening and encouraging. They offer another good reason why President Obama is putting so much energy into diplomacy with Iran. I only hope more member of Congress can begin to “get it” and and switch from their punishing stance.

  3. Ross Capon permalink
    November 3, 2009 10:18 am

    President Obama should not send more troops to Afghanistan. As Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King put it (“What if Obama doesn’t send troops?”, op ed page, Nov. 3), the President asked General McChrystal to propose the strategy with “the best chance of staving off defeat.” The President should realize that the “best chance” is too poor to justify sending more U.S. troops. For the memory-challenged public and media, who have forgotten all they ever knew about U.S. military failures in developing countries, Obama might take the suggestion of the late Sen. George Aiken (R-VT), who advised the U.S. to declare victory in Vietnam and leave.

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