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The Ultimate Test of American Leadership

Today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would announce a new diplomatic initiative soon. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to come up with a proposed package in an effort to resolve regional and international problems in dialogue with opposing parties,” he stated. Mottaki implied that the “new orientation” would relate to Tehran’s nuclear program. The foreign minister’s words followed Saturday’s announcement that Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, will meet with the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei tomorrow in Vienna.

The two announcements come within days of Wednesday’s gathering in Shanghai of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the P5 + 1. The group is expected to discuss sweetening incentives for Iran to drop its enrichment of uranium.

Are there any coincidences when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program? Yes, but this series of events is not one of them. Tehran knows it can buy itself at least another year by holding out hope at this time that there can be a peaceful resolution to the impasse. Therefore, the announcements of yesterday and today are, like all of its past offers, insincere.

This is not to say that Iranians cannot be talked out of their enrichment program. They can—but only when they know they have been defeated. At this moment, however, the mullahs appear to believe they are the ones who are prevailing. So, contrary to what the New York Times has just suggested, it is pointless to begin a new round of negotiations. On Friday, the paper stated that “Washington needs to make Iran a serious offer to talk about everything, including security assurances and diplomatic and economic relations if it is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors.”

What Washington really needs to do is make sure that Iran’s new diplomatic offensive does not succeed and that the P5+1 pushes through a tougher round of sanctions soon. President Bush has staked so much on cooperation with Beijing and Moscow in the past few years. Yet if the Chinese and Russians cannot cooperate on such a basic matter as Iran’s nuclear program when it is on the verge of creating a weapon, then it is pointless to maintain dialogue with them because nothing much else will matter.

It is, of course, unlikely that these two nations will reverse course at this time. So we are at one of those moments when conventional diplomacy is failing. When that happens—when what is necessary is no longer considered practical—the world often experiences uncertainty, turbulence, and death in great numbers.

If the Bush administration cannot change the course of events one more time, then we could travel from the best moment in history to the worst. This is, up to now, the ultimate test of American leadership.



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