The problem with the willingness of so many in the West to buy into the myth that Hassan Rowhani’s election in Iran provides a meaningful opening for nuclear diplomacy isn’t so much the possibility that the U.S. will be suckered into a terrible agreement with Tehran. The Iranians have proved time and again—including during the time when it was Rowhani being the chief deceiver—that they are never going to sign any deal that will place meaningful restrictions on their ability to enrich uranium. There is even less chance that the ayatollahs will allow the West to impose a solution that will “end” Iran’s nuclear program as the president pledged to do during the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney last fall. No matter how many concessions the United States and its European allies offer Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the answer is always going to be no to any accord.
The real problem with the idiocy being promoted by purveyors of conventional foreign policy wisdom this week is that the infatuation with Rowhani will mean the United States will play the next year of Iran policy according to Tehran’s timetable.
That’s the main advantage that Khamenei has gained by allowing a seeming opponent to assume an office that has no real power over Iran’s nuclear program, its intervention in Syria or its support for international terrorism. If President Obama is serious about waiting, as he hinted at on Charlie Rose’s show last night, to see if Rowhani’s win will portend change, that means Iran may have obtained at least another year to develop a weapon before the Americans are ready to think about doing anything to redeem the president’s pledge to stop Iran.
Last September, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to wake up Obama and the rest of the world by drawing a red line across a cartoon bomb at the United Nations General Assembly to remind them of the costs of waiting until Iran had enough fuel to build a weapon. The international press mocked him, but he did put the issue on Obama’s agenda and the U.S. pledged not to let Iran run out the clock until the red line was truly crossed. That created a speeded-up timetable for American action that though amorphous in nature still made it clear that Iran’s time to make a bomb was rapidly running out. That was especially true once the latest P5+1 talks collapsed earlier this year despite the West’s offer of a new batch of concessions to Iran.
But with Rowhani, we now have a brand new timetable for Iran diplomacy that has to encourage Tehran’s embattled nuclear scientists that they have more time to keep their centrifuges spinning away than even they thought possible.
As a New York Times editorial published today helpfully points out, the first new excuse for delay is the need to wait until August when Rowhani is sworn into his new office. The Times piece, which sets new records in ingenuous belief in Rowhani’s powers, is doing nothing more than stating the new reality when it notes this means that the primary task of American diplomacy in the coming months will be to “persuade Congressional leaders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that it is necessary and possible to reach a credible deal with Iran.”
In other words, all efforts to ratchet up the sanctions on Iran to completely shut down their economy are now on the back burner while Obama waits for Rowhani to magically transform Iran’s policies. As for the use of force, that is, as Amos Harel writes in today’s Haaretz, completely off the table for another year at least, as Rowhani will be given leeway to prevaricate, tease and ultimately disappoint his chorus of American fans.
Given the already large stockpile of refined uranium in Iran’s possession and the nuclear test data it may still be receiving from its North Korean friends (who have already illustrated what happens when the U.S. gives diplomacy unlimited time to work when negotiating with tyrants bent on acquiring nukes), another year doesn’t just mean there is no red line for the West on Tehran’s quest. It may provide Iran with enough time to present Obama or his successor with a fait accompli that will mean it is too late to use force, let alone diplomacy or sanctions, to stop their nuclear quest.
The Rowhani timetable is a blueprint for an Iranian bomb. If the president truly wishes to keep his promises on the nuclear question, he must reject the idea that America must, as the Times seems to be indicating, start again from scratch in a diplomatic process that will end as all other attempts to talk the Iranians out of their nuclear goal have ended.