Today, Iran and the 5+1 group of permanent UN Security Council members (plus Germany) will sit down in Baghdad to discuss the terms of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Danaiifar, explained that merely hosting the talks demonstrated a historic chapter in the history of Iraq. But what does the event actually mean for leadership in Baghdad?
Well, it’s difficult to surmise. According to Iranian officials close to the negotiations, “Iraq will not participate in the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 permanent members of the UN security Council, plus Germany – but on the sidelines of the meeting will help bring the views of the two sides closer.”
I’d question whether this is even possible. As I wrote at The American Spectator, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei has tapped Saeed Jalili as his personal emissary and chief negotiator. It will be Jalili’s task to stare down the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who will be representing the 5+1 powers.
Jalili presents an interesting study. A bonafide ideologue and institutional hardliner, he left half his right leg on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq War. Perhaps even more intriguing is his doctoral thesis in political science, which discussed the relevance of the Prophet Muhammad’s seventh century hadithic traditions to present day foreign affairs.
He’ll prove a tough representative – and intractably loyal to his higher-ups in Iran’s political stacking chart. The sudden removal of his predecessor, Ali Larijani, was premised on his personal frustrations with an ever-hardening Iranian stance regarding its nuclear standoff with Western powers. Jalili demonstrates no such ambivalence when it comes to his dealings, as witnessed in previous rounds of negotiations.
It’s also worth noting that a devastating sandstorm may delay the 5+1 delegates from reaching Baghdad in time for the start of the dialogue. Iranian dignitaries haven’t experienced the same hassles en route to the Iraqi capital. In fact, Iran’s official news agency suggested that Saeed Jalili and his team had arrived early to talk shop with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani regarding “mutual, regional and international issues.”
Of course, the very fact that Iraq’s erstwhile enemy asked its fellow majority Shi’a government to host these negotiations demonstrates how far these two states have come. As the BBC’s James Reynolds notes, there’s a strange irony to the fact that US soldiers once fought their way into Baghdad, on suspicions of weapons of mass destruction – now diplomats have now returned to discuss the same subject. That the topic of discussion is squarely focused due east of Baghdad suggests a strange twist of fate.
Iran’s clerical leadership is likely pursuing the sort of nuclear deterrence that eluded lesser despots in Iraq and Libya. America’s invention of “democracy” in Iraq guaranteed increased Iranian influence. Some napkin-math should have alerted the architects of American invasion that the creation of a representative demos in one of four simple majority-Shi’a states on the planet might prove problematic.
Now, Iraq’s next door neighbor, and confessional cousin, has extended home-field advantage to the shores of the Tigris. Let’s see where that gets us in the next round of nuclear talks.