It has long seemed to us that trying to persuade Iran to voluntarily abandon its goal of becoming a nuclear power was a fool’s errand. We never went along with the conventional wisdom of viewing Iran’s nuclear designs as somehow isolated from its general foreign policy objectives. Those objectives include projecting itself as a regional and even international power through intimidation of non-nuclear states and support of terrorist insurgencies and rogue regimes. So it is not surprising that Iran has engaged the Western powers in a series of negotiations designed to buy time as it completes its nuclear drive.
The course of the negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) is ready evidence of their folly. The talks have featured posturing by Iran and ever-escalating demands, including an insistence that all sanctions against Iran be removed as a precondition for substantive negotiations. When it is recalled that the principal Western response to Iran’s nuclear march has been the imposition of those sanctions, this insistence is all the more remarkable and further demonstration of Iran’s goal of parity with world powers.
It is also to be noted that five of the P5+1 countries negotiating with Iran on a more or less equal playing field are the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – quite an achievement for the Iranian regime.
Unfortunately, Iranian recalcitrance has been rewarded with continuing concessions from the P5+1. Just last week, despite the fact that Iran has regularly refused to agree to talks, stonewalled international inspectors, and refused to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions limiting its stockpiling of enriched uranium, Reuters and other media outlets were reporting that the P5+1 countries had offered Iran some relief from sanctions.
Remarks by Prime Minister Netanyahu to his cabinet after yet another round of negotiations proved inconclusive signaled his frustration with the drift in the international response to Iran’s challenge:
My impression from these talks is that the only thing gained from them is a buying of time, and through this time-buying Iran intends to continue enriching nuclear material for an atomic bomb and is indeed getting closer to this goal.
He expanded on this in his remarks on Monday to the AIPAC conference via satellite from Jerusalem. He said Iran is in position to becoming nuclear armed, though it has not yet crossed Israel’s “red line.” He continued, “I have to tell you, words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat.”
Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to take a softer tack during an interview with ABC News on Tuesday in which he acknowledged that despite the attempts at diplomacy and the sanctions against Iran, Tehran continues to move closer to a nuclear capacity.
“Lines have been drawn before and they’ve been passed,” said Mr. Kerry. “If they keep pushing the limits and not coming with a serious set of proposals or prepared to actually resolve this, obviously, the risks get higher and confrontation becomes more possible.”
We would have been more encouraged had he used the word “probable” rather than “possible.”
That the administration continues to send mixed signals on Iran was further evidenced by events of the past month. On the one hand, addressing the AIPAC convention earlier this week, Vice President Biden, speaking of America’s determination to halt Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, said, “The president of the United States cannot and does not bluff. President Obama is not bluffing.”
On the other hand, that robust claim came on the heels of President Obama’s selection of Chuck Hagel as his new secretary of defense. Mr. Hagel is well known for his opposition to any military action against Iran. And Mr. Hagel’s Congressional testimony – before it was clarified – about the president’s “clear” policy on “containment” of Iran’s nuclear ambition – as opposed to “prevention” – was chilling. Certainly the Iranians had to be encouraged by the choice of Mr. Hagel.
There are, of course, many reasons to assume the Obama administration would find a nuclear-armed Iran unacceptable. It would radically alter the international power structure to the detriment of the U.S. and its allies; it would allow Iran to hold even the United States hostage to its nuclear capacity; it would tend to foster terrorism and insurrection; and it doubtless would spur a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.