Commentary Magazine


Iran Declares Victory in Nuclear Talks

Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.

But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:

In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.

Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?

That the Iranians have played the West for fools for a decade is no secret. For this, President Bush bears as much responsibility as President Obama or the Europeans. By allowing the Iranians to stall diplomatic efforts for years and for refusing until the last few months to set in place meaningful economic sanctions, the Western powers have encouraged the Iranians to think they can get away with doing what they like, safe in the knowledge there will be no serious repercussions.

Every red line has been transgressed. The West had opposed the opening of a nuclear plant, the construction of heavy water facilities as well as uranium enrichment. But Iran has them all now and has good reason to think a deal will not force them to surrender any of it.

Mr. Taraghi and other officials say their policy has forced the United States to accept enrichment, though five resolutions by the United Nations Security Council have called for it to suspend it. Obama administration officials dispute that view.

But some Iranian and Western officials have hinted that the White House may now be willing to accept some level of enrichment activity …

Iran’s negotiators left the Istanbul meeting believing they had scored a major victory. “We have managed to get our rights,” said Mr. Taraghi in his office in downtown Tehran. “All that remains is a debate over the percentage of enrichment.”

President Obama has talked very tough about stopping Iran and even convinced some otherwise savvy observers (like Jeffrey Goldberg) that he means it. But the Iranians clearly believe Obama is a paper tiger who has no stomach for a conflict with them. They think he will be talked into going along with the Europeans and letting the Iranians keep their nuclear program while abandoning the crippling sanctions that the president never showed much appetite for enforcing.

The proposed deal will also give them relative impunity against a pre-emptive attack by Israel to forestall the creation of an Iranian bomb. Despite the fact that the West is already in possession of evidence of a weapons program, once it is put in place and the sanctions are lifted, the deal will allow Iran to quickly pivot to the construction of a bomb whenever they like.

That the Iranians believe they have defeated Obama on this issue is now no secret. The only question is whether the president and his credulous Jewish supporters will let this taunt go unanswered as the P5+1 talks head inevitably toward an agreement that will give international sanction to Iran’s nuclear goal.

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