The notion President Barack Obama has entertained, that his path to ending Iran’s nuclear threat would lead through a mix of sanctions and diplomacy, is being tested on a grand scale this week.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, will see the start of new talks, in Baghdad, intended to persuade Iran’s government to halt the enrichment of uranium, and also allow international inspectors complete access to its facilities. Ideally, Obama would have liked to manage the progress of these talks, perhaps the most crucial in a decade-long struggle between the West and the Iranians.
Indeed, according to the Mehr News Agency, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary and chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili has already arrived in Baghdad on Monday night, eager to start the talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
Meanwhile, Mehr reports that International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said in Tehran on Monday that a good atmosphere prevailed in his talks with Iranian officials.
Amano spoke after a two-hour meeting with Saeed Jalili, before the latter departed to Baghdad.
But back in Washington it appears that both the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate don’t completely trust the executive branch to do the right thing on Iran.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate approved even tougher new penalties on Tehran, aimed to squash its nuclear hopes.
By a unanimous voice vote, the Senate decided on measures to target Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (barring their affiliates from entry into the U.S.), demand that companies trading on the U.S. stock exchange disclose their Iran-related business to the SEC, and expand penalties for energy and uranium mining joint ventures with Iran.
Last week, the House passed a resolution, with 314 sponsors, calling on President Obama “to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability.” The resolution demanded reaffirmation of the U.S. “opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been concealing his own skepticism regarding the president’s chances in negotiating away Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Iran wants to destroy Israel, and it is developing nuclear weapons to fulfill that goal,” he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week that “the pressure will be on the Iranians to demonstrate continued good faith,” which he defined as concretely discussing their program, meaning the nitty-gritty aspects of where, what percentage uranium enrichment, how close are they to building a nuclear device, and so on. The U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany would like to know, in detail.
Take, for example, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who insisted on Sunday that the coming negotiations needed to produce evidence of progress to the international community, according to Reuters.
“Practical results are needed that can be shown to the international community as evidence that we are moving forward,” Ryabkov said.
The Russian “step-by-step” proposal wants Iran to gradually increase cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and for each step it would be rewarded with a gradual easing of sanctions.
AA’s Bill Wilson meets the Ayatollah Humeini, if you will.
But Republicans in both houses have been having a field day with their accusation of an Administration ineptness on Iran.
Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, said, “The administration’s foolish embrace of yet another round of negotiations will only embolden the regime. The administration has made concession after concession in its negotiations with Iran only to come empty-handed. The Iranian approach seems to be, ‘What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.'”