Commentary Magazine


Time for a Do-Over

I asked Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, about today’s revelations. What’s the significance of the newly revealed facility?

This is very significant and shows once again that Iran cannot be trusted with sensitive nuclear technology, especially the technology required to enrich uranium. President Obama said that “the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.” If this is true, it raises questions about what the consensus in the U.S. intelligence community is now that Iran has resumed its covert nuclear weapons program. It also is troubling that even though President Obama appears to have been aware of this information, he in recent weeks authorized Undersecretary of State William Burns to meet with Iran and other members of the P5+1 next week. What does the administration expect to get out of continued engagement given Iran’s apparent disregard for all of its international obligations? President Obama should have used this information to make an immediate push for crippling sanctions, and he should make clear to Iran that the military option remains on the table if similar covert sites are discovered elsewhere.

What does this tell us about our ability to monitor and verify Iran’s activities?

The fact that Iran was able to develop a facility like this despite being under multiple UN Security Council resolutions which attempt to limit its access to sensitive nuclear technology makes clear that the current sanctions regime is weak and that new types of sanctions need to be explored. It also shows that if the IAEA was unable to learn about this site, it is likely that there are other covert sites that have yet to be discovered. Iran’s nuclear ambitions cannot be managed through international inspections.

Does this violate the existing sanctions already in place?

This violates all of the existing UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. Iran has also violated its obligation to report such facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency as soon as they enter the planning phase. Unfortunately, President Obama’s response, stressing engagement and dialogue, will send the message to Iran that they can get away with just about anything and still sit down with us to discuss the state of civilization.

Fly makes a key point: what has been lost here is the opportunity to galvanize domestic and international opinion and work toward a meaningful regime of sanctions. Obama hasn’t used the past eight months—or the last week—productively while he had possession of this critical information. Indeed, Obama didn’t use any forum—the General Assembly speech, private meetings with world leaders, or the Security Council—to make any headway toward addressing the Iranian threat. It’s hard in retrospect to figure out what he was doing. Lawmakers are similarly stumped. In a statement, Rep. Tom Price comments on Obama’s approach to Iran to date:

The public revelation of this nuclear facility’s existence illustrates yet again that the current Iranian regime cannot be trusted. The most stunning news, however, is that President Obama was aware of this facility’s existence, understood that it appears non-peaceful, yet still decided to weaken our missile defense capabilities. This administration’s nonchalant attitude about the threat of a missile-borne nuclear attack from Iran is absolutely reckless. Missile defense systems are vital measures that will both deter and defend against the threat of missile-borne attacks. Yet, the Obama administration has scrapped plans for a defensive site in Eastern Europe and has cut $1.2 billion in missile defense funding.

The Obama approach to the world and to our security is unraveling—in Honduras, in the Middle East, with regard to Guantanamo, and now on Iran. By forcing the world into preconceived notions of diplomacy and by willfully ignoring real dangers, they have dug themselves and the U.S. into a mighty big hole. A good place to start digging themselves out would be the immediate passage of stiffing sanctions on Iran and the use of all that Obama charisma to rally world opinion.

That’s what Sen. Kit Bond suggests in a NRO interview:

Bond tells us that one of the first things the Senate can do in response is to support a measure proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) earlier this year to block any shipping company that delivers refined petroleum to Iran from coming into American ports. “That’s one of things we could do unilaterally, to hit them where it hurts,” says Bond. “I would also like to see the full-spectrum of economic sanctions imposed.”

And maybe that threat and a prompt vote on gasoline sanctions are where Obama should be focusing his efforts. But instead, the Obama administration is in reaction mode and still talking engagement, new deadlines, and more and more discussion. Obama and his advisers now declare they are on to Iran’s non-peaceful nuclear plans—a truly startling development for an administration that maintained until today that this was still an open issue. But all that changed was Iran’s willingness to turn themselves in to the IAEA. Left unexplained is when and how the administration’s intelligence estimate changed and why they seemingly haven’t made any use of it until now.

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