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Who’s Calling The Shots With Iran?

The Obama administration is so pleased with the way the first round of talks with Iran have gone in Geneva, it may actually offer the Iranians access to billions of dollars of frozen assets if they promise to roll back part of their nuclear program and take incremental steps to do so.

The punishing economic sanctions, which have devastated the Iranian economy, are what forced Iran to the table in the first place (when it was widely assumed that Tehran would have to fully and unconditionally abandon its nuclear aspirations for the sanctions to be lifted).

Getting the Iranians to negotiate was certainly an achievement of sorts, though prudence requires a presumption that they are stalling for time. Yet the incremental approach, should it come to pass, would accord Iran an enhanced position, no longer a supplicant but now a negotiating partner with the West. The transition would be stunning.

The New York Times quoted U.S. officials as saying that despite the fact that the Geneva talks “did not produce a breakthrough, Iranian officials were more candid and substantive than in previous encounters.”

Indeed, the Associated Press reported that while details from the Geneva talks “have remained tightly guarded…short-range priorities have been made clear. The U.S. and allies seek to roll back Iran’s highest-level uranium enrichment. Iran wants the West to start easing sanctions.”

It is important not to lose sight of a crucial element here. Iran has a well-earned international reputation for being an outlaw nation, with most Western nations going along with unprecedented economic sanctions in order to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. As a practical matter Iran is down and out and at the mercy of others, but it seems to be succeeding in largely setting the tone and pace of negotiations with the sanctioning countries.

Whatever one may think of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s views on a possible military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, there can be no doubt he is right about a “partial deal” being counterproductive.

And he was also right when he told his Cabinet, “I think that in this situation as long as we do not see actions instead of words, the international pressure must continue to be applied and even increased. The greater the pressure, the greater the chance that there will be a genuine dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program.”

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