Leading article: This quarrel is, above all, over a simple issue of trust

Share

There are times when it is right to be thankful for small mercies. With security in Iraq and Afghanistan deteriorating and the proposed UN force for southern Lebanon taking far longer to be formed than had been hoped, the restraint that has surrounded Iran's delivery of its 21-page missive this week gives cause for just a little hope.

Certainly, Iran has been playing a canny diplomatic game over its nuclear ambitions. Rather than giving a flat "No" to the six-nation package of incentives that would be on offer if it gave up its nuclear enrichment, Iran has come back with a more nuanced reply - the top line of which appears to be an offer of "serious talks". This struck a rather different note from the defiance expressed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, only the day before and left the recipients scrambling to co-ordinate their response.

Yesterday every one of the six nations to which the letter was addressed - the US, the EU "troika", Russia and China - referred to the need to give Tehran's response careful consideration. Even the United States, which has often seemed in such a hurry to force the issue back to the UN Security Council, seemed intent on taking its time. The White House said that Iran's response was being given the benefit of a "careful review, as it deserves". The spokesman also went out of her way to say that the US was working with its allies.

If this emphasis on reflection is not necessarily a sign that the US has abandoned its apparent preference for coercion, it is a rather better initial reaction than the knee-jerk negativism that might have been expected. If the US really is concerned to remain in step with its partners, this is also a shift to be welcomed. Any progress in talks with Iran is unlikely to make headway unless the six countries that have offered the incentives package can maintain a united front.

The six - but especially the United States - also need to acknowledge more openly than they have that the quarrel with Iran is, above all, a trust issue. When Iran insists, as it has hitherto, that, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has a right to develop a nuclear capacity for peaceful purposes, it is a point that cannot be contested. There cannot be one set of treaty requirements for Western countries, or those too big to challenge, and a separate set of requirements for the rest. This would be an invitation to Iran and others to renounce the treaty and pursue their nuclear ambitions without international oversight.

If we believed that Iran's more diplomatic tone, and the greater restraint evident in Washington reflected a genuinely new willingness on both sides to reach agreement through negotiation, we would be more optimistic than we are. In fact, we fear that the caution on the US side reflects, in part at least, a recognition that the international balance of influence has changed. This is a change, it must be said, that does not necessarily bode well for the prospects of peace in the region as a whole.

As a new Chatham House report concludes, the war in Iraq has demonstrated the limits of US power, and Iran has been the chief beneficiary. Israel's recent failure to disarm Hizbollah by force and Syria's refusal to have international peacekeepers on its borders are proof of how Iran's regional influence has grown.

One of the report's key findings is that Iran's influence in the Middle East has now eclipsed that of the US. This is not at all what the US and its British ally intended when they set out to topple Saddam Hussein. By over-reaching and then mishandling Iraq so disastrously, the United States has severely limited its options for constraining a resurgent Iran.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas