by Jonathan S. Tobin
Give the Islamist regime in Iran some credit. They can read between the lines as easily as anyone in Washington. Having seen the spectacle of the Obama administration’s refusal to set red lines about Iran’s nuclear program despite impassioned pleas from Israel to do so, the ayatollahs understand they have been sent a signal that the president is open to another round of hopeless negotiations over the issue. That’s the upshot of the informal meetings taking place in Istanbul between the Iranians and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Ashton headed up the West’s delegations in the P5+1 talks held earlier this year but, like President Obama, appears to have learned nothing from the experience. As Laura Rozen reports in The Back Channel blog, the Iranians may have again convinced the West that they should give the talks yet another try. According to Rozen, “The path going forward is ‘open,’ one western diplomat said.”
That’s excellent news for the Iranians, who may now be able to look forward to more negotiating sessions with the Western consortium at which they can drag out the process even further without giving an inch. But it’s bad news for anyone who wants to actually stop the Iranians from achieving their nuclear ambition.
The P5+1 talks earned the Iranians several months more during which their centrifuges could keep spinning and turning out more enriched uranium for their weapons project. This illustrates why the Israelis are so intent on red lines.
This year’s diplomatic minuet over the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the first time Tehran played the West for suckers.
The Bush administration vetoed any Israeli attack on Iran and outsourced diplomacy on the question to the Europeans. But despite the warm relations that France and Germany supposedly had with their Iranian business partners and their offer of a deal that would have allowed Tehran to have a nuclear program, no deal was ever struck.
President Obama came into office acting as if the Bush attempt at diplomacy never happened and wasted a year on a foolish attempt at “engagement” with Iran and two more on assembling a weak international coalition in favor of loosely enforced sanctions on Tehran. Talks were held and deals even struck, but the Iranians always reneged on any deal. The president’s fourth year in office was marked by more sanctions that had no effect on Iran and the P5+1 talks that merely bought Iran’s scientists more time.
The Israelis and other savvy observers understand that Iran’s goal in the talks is not even a favorable agreement that would enable them to finesse their way to a bomb the way the North Koreans did. Rather, their intention is to stall until their stockpile of nuclear material is large enough and stored in invulnerable underground bunkers that would render any attack pointless.
That’s why what is needed now is a presidential statement about red lines rather than another P5+1 fool’s errand. Anything other than a warning that force will be used if Iran doesn’t halt its enrichment program is a sign not so much of patience but that the president will go back on his pledge not to “contain” a nuclear Iran.
No one who is not an Iran apologist can possibly argue — at least not with a straight face — that more talks with Iran under these circumstances will serve anyone’s interests but that of the Islamist regime. Those who have argued that the administration should be trusted to stop Iran must speak out urgently about what another round of P5+1 talks will mean: more months for Iran to get closer to a bomb and a bridge to a second term reversal of policy on the issue by President Obama.Jonathan S. Tobin
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