They good news out of the White House is that President Obama has no plans at present to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next week at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. If such a meeting were being touted, it might signal an impeding agreement between the two nations that would likely do little to avert the Iranian nuclear threat. The bad news is that Iran’s open display of defiance heading into the talks that began this week in New York is a sign that American economic and military leverage over the Islamist regime is now so slight that the most likely outcome of this latest round of diplomatic futility is for the negotiations to continue to be strung out indefinitely, something that will lead inevitably to the Iranian bomb Obama has vowed to stop.
As I wrote earlier this week, the European Union has already signaled that it is preparing for yet another extension of the talks past November by appointing current foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to continue to represent the EU in negotiations with Tehran. These are, of course, the talks that were supposed to have a six-month time limit so as to prevent Iran from continuing its delaying tactics that have worked so well over the past decade. But that time limit — an integral part of the interim nuclear accord signed last November by the United States and its allies with Iran — was already extended once over the summer.
That ought to mean the current talks being held in New York ought to be make or break time for an administration that spiked Congress’s attempt to strengthen economic sanctions on Iran last winter by promising that diplomacy could work without the extra leverage tougher restrictions on doing business with Tehran would give it. But in the last year the administration’s diplomatic efforts have gone nowhere on the nuclear issue. The loosening of the sanctions in the interim accord removed the West’s ace in the hole against the ayatollahs and signaled the world that Iran would soon be open for business again.
Combined with the tension between Russia and the West after the invasion of Ukraine that provided Iran with a crucial friend and you have a formula that left Tehran feeling strong enough to resist President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s entreaties to make a deal and inaugurate a new era of U.S.-Iran détente. Throw in the fact that the U.S. and Iran are allegedly now on the same side in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (where Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad has survived and also, as Kerry said, “played footsie with ISIS”) and Iran has zero incentive to give an inch on nuclear issues.
With little hope of progress this week, Rouhani can go to New York and thumb his nose on the nuclear issue at the U.S. with impunity. That leaves President Obama’s promises about stopping Iran and letting diplomacy work without Congressional interference look hollow if not mendacious. The Iranians feel they have Obama right where they want him, knowing he has even less appetite for a confrontation with them than he does with ISIS. The terrorist group presents a clear and present danger to the nation that the administration is right to begin to address. But by neglecting the even more deadly peril from an Iranian nuke and allowing Tehran to think they have nothing to lose by stiffing the West in the talks, Obama is endangering U.S. security and setting himself up for a legacy of foreign policy catastrophe.