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Reconsidering Iran Policy

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Much attention has properly been paid to the problems inherent in the provisions of the Geneva agreement struck with Iran. There are substantial loopholes that allow Iran to run trucks through its commitments and Iran seems to have been able to blunt the full court press that had been mounted against it in the form of economic sanctions and threats of military force. Thus, despite UN resolutions calling for the elimination of Iran’s nuclear capacity, there is now primarily talk only of containing and regulating it. And while the Geneva agreement was initially said to call for relaxation of sanctions to the tune of approximately $4-$5 billion pending further discussions, it is now widely thought to be more than two times that amount.

But, as serious as these concerns are, there is also the matter of the process having perversely cast Iran as a major international player, contending on an equal basis with the major powers. Despite the fact that the Geneva conference was initially portrayed as Iran being called to the woodshed, the Iranians have deftly taken the air out of the anti-Iran united front; kicked any confrontation up the road; all but eliminated the threat of joint military action against them by the major powers or by Israel acting on its own; secured international acknowledgment of their right to continue to enrich uranium; and undermined the sanction regime – perhaps fatally so.

It has also created fissures among the major powers and caused consternation in the ranks of America’s allies as to U.S. reliability by highlighting President Obama’s penchant for ignoring his own “red lines.” And it has effectively given a pass to Iran for its support of terror around the world.

Moreover, Iran has emerged as a diplomatic force, providing its own self-serving interpretation of the language in the agreement without drawing rebuke from the U.S. and even temporarily pulling out of the negotiations because of alleged U.S. violations of the agreement before making a public show of returning as a magnanimous gesture to peace.

It is no secret that Israel has taken a profound lesson from the Geneva agreement. Indeed, Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said at a recent session of the World Policy Conference that after President Obama declined to strike Syria despite conclusive evidence of the Assad regime’s use of poison gas, neither Israel nor Iran believe any longer that the U.S. would use military force against Tehran.

A key casualty in all of this has been the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. In fact, that special relationship has been an important part of American policy for decades and it has now plainly been undermined. Prince Turki al Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief now serving as a spokesman for the Saudi government, told the World Policy Conference that his country lacked confidence in the U.S. because of its failure to follow through on Syria and the implications of the Geneva agreement. He said the growth of Iranian power in the Gulf is viewed by Saudi Arabia as a threat to its security and complained that the U.S. seems bent on withdrawing inward.

Plainly, a mistake was made early on in treating Iran as a full negotiating partner. What should have been a process built around Iran’s being instructed as to the major powers’ fundamentally unalterable demands became one largely granting legitimacy to Iran’s basic position, though subjecting it to various adjustments.

An Iran with nuclear weapons is one of the great issues of our time with geopolitical implications of the highest order. America’s role in the world is another. We still cling to some hope that this president, perhaps with nudging by Congress, will be up to the task and stem the unraveling of longstanding international alliances and understandings now underway.

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