The deadline for the US-Iran nuclear talks is coming soon. Next week, in fact.
The negotiations so far have been an exercise in duplicity. I thought they might have a bomb purchased from North Korea in 2013 but that may not be true.
the RAND Corporation reports that the third North Korean nuclear test appears to many experts to be fundamentally different from its previous two efforts. North Korea’s first tests used plutonium to trigger the nuclear explosion. This one, according to some atmospheric tests, likely used highly enriched uranium, exactly the form of nuclear weapon pursued by Iran.
We have heard no more about this.
What next ? Mark Dubowitz and Reuel Marc Gerecht have some thoughts about this. Gerecht is a former CIA agent who is fluent in Farsi and who has been studying Iran since the revolution in 1979. I read his book Know Thine Enemy, written under a pseudonym, a few years ago.
If the White House doesn’t end November with a cascade of concessions leading to a deal, there are four paths forward. None is appealing. Two might be effective—but the president is unlikely to choose either one.
They provide four options.
One-The White House could give up on diplomacy and pre-emptively strike Iran’s nuclear sites.
There is no chance that Obama would do this. Would Israel ? Maybe but only if the urgency seems critical.
Two. The administration could give up on the current talks and default back to sanctions, but again trying to undercut their seriousness, as the president attempted to do in 2011 and 2012.
Congress may have a say here, especially the new Congress.
Congress imposed the most economically painful measures—targeting Iran’s oil exports, central bank and access to the Swift interbank system—over his objections. The president has always hoped that “rationality” would take hold in Tehran, that the regime would see the economic benefits that come with good behavior. The Islamic Republic has enjoyed an economic reprieve, thanks to Mr. Obama’s decision last year to de-escalate sanctions pressure by blocking new congressional action and giving billions of dollars in direct sanctions relief as part of the interim deal.
This is the Obama we saw in 2009 when the Iranians tried to revolt.
Any hope they might have had in the Obama White House was quickly dismissed in the administration’s two statements on the matter. The first came from the president himself, anticipating a Mousavi victory (it is too soon to speculate on the source of this happy thought), and of course, in his narcissistic way, taking personal credit for it.
What else ? Three. New, even more biting sanctions could be enacted, causing Tehran considerable pain. Current energy markets, with a declining price for crude, offer ample room for Congress to threaten sanctions against any country’s central bank involved in buying Iran’s oil exports, or in giving Tehran access to oil revenues now being held overseas and available only for trade with Iran’s five main oil buyers—China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.
The new Congress might be willing to do this. Will Obama ?
The wiser bet is that sanctions—though important in restoring the U.S.’s negotiating leverage—will fail without other forms of coercion. And Ayatollah Khamenei, if he isn’t otherwise deterred, may well respond to new, economy-crushing sanctions by accelerating the nuclear program, presenting Mr. Obama with the choice he most dreads: launch militarily strikes or accept Iran as a nuclear state.
It seems obvious to me that he is willing to accept their bomb and then allege that “Containment” would suffice. Would anything work ?
The White House could try to reinforce new sanctions with the credible show of military force to intimidate the Iranian regime. President Hasan Rouhani has rather pleadingly confessed in speeches and in his memoirs that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 scared the clerical regime and led him to advocate, as Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003-05, a tactical pause in the regime’s nuclear aspirations.
To achieve a more lasting impression now would require a significant military operation. Only one target would serve that purpose: Bashar Assad. Syria is Iran’s most helpful ally among Arab states. Taking Mr. Assad down would let Tehran know that America’s withdrawal from the Middle East and President Obama’s dreams of an entente with Iran are over.
I don’t see Obama doing this. Could Congress ?
Taking out Mr. Assad is unavoidable if Washington is serious about stopping the radicalization of Syria’s Sunni population and getting their help in defeating the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS. And such an about-face by Washington would be shocking—perhaps paralyzing—in Tehran. Yet it is hard to imagine Mr. Obama taking such action.
Which means that Washington and its European allies will most likely angle for another extension of the talks. Ayatollah Khamenei may accept. The Iranian economy, despite the oil-price drop, has been noticeably improving since the interim deal was concluded in January—and the continuation of the talks poses no threat to further nuclear progress.
The Iranian bomb is probably inevitable, which will pose a severe challenge for Netanyahu, who seems the only adult in the room.