By Ellen Laipson – Most arms control negotiations take place in Geneva, Vienna,
or other charming European capitals. The
agreement by all the parties to reconvene in Baghdad, the troubled capital of
Iraq, was a curiosity. When it
reluctantly accepted Istanbul as the venue for the April talks, Iran argued
that Turkey was not a neutral party, having recently agreed to reduce its oil
imports from Iran as part of the international effort to pressure Iran on its
nuclear activities. Iran insisted that a
country that did NOT participate in sanctions against it would be the proper
balance to Turkey, and Iraq was quickly accepted. Some may have calculated that Iran might be
more inclined to be forthcoming if it was on friendly ground, with a host
country that at some level understood its interests, if not its specific
positions on the issues.
Of course the close ties between Iran and Iraq more
generally are a cause for concern to the other countries participating in the
talks. The political tensions inside
Iraq, with the government of Nuri al-Maliki taking increasingly aggressive
stands against its Sunni political opponents, are seen as strengthening the
Shia agenda, which pulls Iraq, even symbolically, closer to Iran and makes the
Arab world nervous. Iraq’s support for
the government of Syria, while most Sunni Arab governments have joined the west
in calling for the fall of Bashar al-Asad, is another current and acute point
of friction between Iraq and many of its neighbors and partners.
The United States, having invested blood and treasure to get
rid of Saddam Hussein and replace his dictatorship with a more representative
government, could not refuse Iraq despite its less than stellar reputation for
security or democratic practice. The US still has a stake in demonstrating
Iraq’s reintegration into the region and the larger international community as
a “normal” and law-abiding country.
Iraq’s recent coming-out party, hosting the Arab League
summit in March, meant that its infrastructure for diplomatic gatherings was up
to global standards, and hosting the nuclear talks is another sign of Iraq’s
ability to resume at least some of its earlier standing as a country of some
stature and geopolitical weight in the region.
In fact, the nuclear issue itself is also appropriate for the new,
post-Saddam Iraq, which has formally renounced any ambition to have nuclear
weapons in its agreements with the UN and the United States.
Photo Credit: US Army, via Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_%26_Jalal_Talabani_in_Baghdad_4-7-09.JPG