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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing