Thursday, March 8, 2012

Obama’s Secret Weapon on Iran: A Charm Offensive

by Joseph Klein

President Obama is leading from behind once again. He has decided to participate in a new round of unconditional negotiations with Iran. He still remains under the illusion that, under the pressure of the very late in the day sanctions, Iran just needs a little more time to come to its senses at the bargaining table.

The European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement on behalf of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. accepting Iran’s invitation to resume talks on what Iran vaguely referred to as “various nuclear issues.”

Of course, there is only one nuclear issue that matters – Iran’s abandonment of its nuclear enrichment program aimed at achieving a nuclear arms capability. Iran’s history of lies, deception, interference with the work of United Nations inspectors and stalling tactics would indicate to anyone with his eyes open that negotiations with Iran at this juncture are not only useless, they will play right into Iran’s hands by helping them to run out the clock until they reach their goal.

Recall candidate Obama’s presidential campaign promise. He vowed to engage in “unconditional” negotiations with Iran. Nearly four years later, President Obama is still wearing rose-colored glasses.

During his March 7th press conference, Obama emphasized the negotiation route:

At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically…And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they’re meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

There is not a single shred of evidence to support Obama’s willingness to give the Iranian regime the benefit of the doubt on anything. Indeed, the results of Obama’s failed “engagement” policy towards Iran have proven precisely the opposite. Obama bent over backwards from the very beginning of his administration to enter into the “unconditional” talks with the Iranian leaders that he had promised during his campaign. Most notably, he turned his back on Iranian dissidents in June 2009 so as not to offend the thugs running the Iranian regime.

What was the answer of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei? In 2010, Khamenei said:

The late Imam Khomeini never gave any concession and we, on behalf of the Iranian nation, will never give any concession.

Where is Iran today in its nuclear program compared with 2008? By December 2008, Iran had accumulated enough of the uranium isotope U-235, which fissions in first-generation nuclear weapons, to fuel one bomb according to a study cited by Iran Watch. Each year thereafter during Obama’s presidency, Iran added to its stockpile enough U-235 to build at least one additional bomb a year if it decided to “raise the level of U-235 in its low-enriched uranium stockpile (3.5 percent U-235) to weapon-grade (90 percent or more U-235).” By the end of November 2011, Iran is estimated to have had enough U-235 to fuel a fifth bomb if it wishes to proceed in that direction.

Obama seems to be counting on the hope that Iran will not make the leap from its increased nuclear enrichment capability to actually building bombs. He thinks that a combination of his charm offensive at the negotiating table and escalating sanctions will give Iran’s leaders pause. But the record indicates otherwise.

Iran is busy building facilities deep underground to hide what it is doing and to better protect them. It has refused unrestricted inspections by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose recent reports have raised alarming concerns about Iran’s nuclear weaponization ambitions.

“The Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” the IAEA said in its latest quarterly report about Iran’s atomic activities.

At Natanz, the IAEA report said 52 cascades – each containing around 170 centrifuges – were now operating, up from 37 in November. At Fordow, Iran’s underground facility, almost 700 centrifuges are now refining uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent and preparations are under way to install many more, the IAEA report concluded. Iran had now produced nearly 110 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent since early 2010, according to the IAEA report.

Back in September 2011, the IAEA reported that it was “increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations.” These included “activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

In May 2011, the IAEA said it had evidence that Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts say could be used for only one purpose, namely to set off a nuclear weapon.

President Obama is obviously aware of these facts. Yet he appears to ignore them. He has not insisted on even one confidence builder from Iran first, such as allowing the UN inspectors to examine all of its enrichment sites without restriction, before agreeing to more time-consuming, fruitless negotiations.

Even the logistics of setting up the talks will eat more time, all to Iran’s advantage. First, there will have to be preliminary discussions between European and Iranian diplomats to decide on details such as the location of the talks. That could take at least two weeks to complete. Then there will not be any formal negotiations begun before the New Year holiday in Iran this month, which pushes the starting date for the formal negotiations until the beginning of April at the earliest. And it goes on from there. During all this time, Obama will be trumpeting the opening of his “window of opportunity” for diplomacy to work.

While the window remains open we can virtually hear precious time ticking away and the whirring sound of Iran’s centrifuges.

Joseph Klein


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