The US' dispute with Iran over Iran's nuclear program is really not difficult to understand. Signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty can have legal nuclear weapons capabilities as long as they do not build actual nuclear weapons. Japan has legal nuclear weapons capabilities, Brazil does, many other countries do. If a country with legal nuclear weapons capabilities is provoked, it is free - under the terms of the NPT - to leave the treaty and build nuclear weapons in response.
Israel believes that it should have not only a monopoly of nuclear weapons in its region, but also no other country in its region should have the capability to make nuclear weapons. If Japan was in Israel's region, its nuclear program would be unacceptable to Israel and therefore to the United States. The United States today would be whipping up a more intense blizzard of lies, evasions, distortions and exaggerations about Japan's nuclear program than it is now about Iran's far more modest nuclear capabilities.
Gary Sick has recently suggested that possibly the United States is signaling flexibility with Iran that may lead to a breakthrough on the nuclear dispute. There is not much room for hope on that score unless and until the United States abandons its position that legal nuclear weapons capabilities like those Japan, Canada, Brazil and many other countries have must be prohibited at all costs from non-Jewish countries in Israel's region.
That kind of three-dimensional chess is not only complicated; it is not normally regarded as a U.S. strong suit. Naturally, you cannot conduct major negotiations with Iran without attracting public attention, whether in the United States, in Israel, in the Arab Middle East states, or elsewhere. But if you throw enough anti-Iran dust in the air, you may defuse any concerted attack – figuratively or otherwise.Barack Obama recently gave an interview with Time Magazine. Looking at the interview, there is more that says Sick is wrong than that he is right. I want to look more closely at the three questions Obama was asked involving Iran and Obama's responses.
The new sanctions go into effect in six months, just before the political nominating conventions. President Obama will have to have something positive to show before that time if he is to justify putting the sanctions on hold. This is the diplomatic equivalent of a two-minute drill in football. It is a thing a beauty when it works, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Romney says if you are re-elected, Iran will get a nuclear weapon, and if he is elected, it won’t. Will you make a categorical statement like that: If you are re-elected, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon?It was once interesting that Barack Obama has a special definition of "peaceful nuclear power" for Israel's region that there and only there excludes the legal nuclear weapons capabilities that countries like Japan have. Now it is just old and boring.
I have made myself clear since I began running for the presidency that we will take every step available to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. What I’ve also said is that our efforts are going to be … Excuse me. When I came into office, what we had was a situation in which the world was divided, Iran was unified, it was on the move in the region. And because of effective diplomacy, unprecedented pressure with respect to sanctions, our ability to get countries like Russia and China — that had previously balked at any serious pressure on Iran — to work with us, Iran now faces a unified world community, Iran is isolated, its standing in the region is diminished. It is feeling enormous economic pressure.
And we are in a position where, even as we apply that pressure, we’re also saying to them, There is an avenue to resolve this, which is a diplomatic path where they forego nuclear weapons, abide by international rules and can have peaceful nuclear power as other countries do, subject to the restrictions of the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Obama made concessions to at least Russia and likely also to China that Bush was not willing to make in exchange for cooperation on Iran. Russia's leaders are responsible for the strategic interests of Russia, the same for China. One could not ask Russia to turn down a delay the expansion of the US missile defense system on Iran's behalf, nor should China's government not accept leniency on its currency manipulation.
The United States, if it is willing to pay, can get stronger sanctions against Iran. The United States, if it wants, can go to war with Iran. Nobody has ever doubted this. Obama may be overly proud of himself for demonstrating something that was never in question. But the United States, no more than it did when Obama came to office, has no plausible way to prevent Iran from at least acquiring legal nuclear weapons capabilities.
What a US president is one day going to have to do, which we are not seeing in Obama, is tell Israel that its desire for a regional monopoly on nuclear capabilities just is not deliverable by the US. Seeing even a hint of that will indicate progress on the nuclear issue.
I also wonder if people forget that Obama is not staking new ground when he says that he accepts Iran's right to nuclear power. George Bush's position was identical. Iran can have nuclear power as long as it does not enrich uranium - which is to say as long as it does not acquire or attempt to acquire legal nuclear weapons capabilities. When Obama says that it is not a concession or an indication of flexibility.
But the way, the Iranians might see it as that they have made proposals — the Brazilian-Turkish proposal — and that they never go anywhere. They aren’t the basis of negotiations.The original US offer to Iran, that it trade 3.5% low enriched uranium for 20% LEU in a form usable for Iran's research reactor to make medical isotopes was, on paper, a giveaway to Iran. It would have been the kind of gesture that would have marked a drastic change in the US' approach to Iran and certainly would have built at least good feelings from Iran if not confidence.
Yes, I think if you take a look at the track record, the Iranians have simply not engaged in serious negotiations on these issues.
We actually put forward a very serious proposal that would have allowed them to display good faith. They need medical isotopes; there was a way to take out some of their low-enriched uranium so that they could not — so that there was clarity that they were not stockpiling that to try to upgrade to weapons-grade uranium. In exchange, the international community would provide the medical isotopes that they needed for their research facility. And they delayed and they delayed, and they hemmed and they hawed, and then when finally the Brazilian-Indian proposal was put forward, it was at a point where they were now declaring that they were about to move forward on 20% enriched uranium, which would defeat the whole purpose of showing good faith that they weren’t stockpiling uranium that could be transformed into weapons-grade.
So, not to get too bogged down in the details, the point is that the Iranians have a very clear path where they say, We’re not going to produce weapons, we won’t stockpile material that can be used for weapons. The international community then says, We will work with you to develop your peaceful nuclear energy capacity, subject to the kinds of inspections that other countries have agreed to in the past. This is not difficult to do. What makes it difficult is Iran’s insistence that it is not subject to the same rules that everybody else is subject to.
The question Iran faced was is this a goodwill gesture, or is it a trap? Will Iran export its LEU and get reactor fuel in return or will it export its LEU and be told that it has to indefinitely suspend enrichment to ever get reactor fuel? The United States is pretty open now that it had been a trap. The United States did not intend then and does not intend now to ever give Iran reactor fuel unless Iran accepts conditions that Iran has already rejected in the strongest possible terms consistently since at least 2006.
Yes, Obama is lying to describe the offer as a "very serious proposal".
Also stockpiling low enriched uranium is legal and is peaceful, at least outside of Israel's region.
But Obama's most outrageous lie is that he has a way of getting carried away and claiming Iran does not want to follow the same rules as everybody else. That is the type of lie that rightfully inspires deep doubts about a person's moral make-up. If Obama is able to repeatedly describe Iran's refusal to accept conditions only imposed on non-Jewish countries in Israel's region as "Iran’s insistence that it is not subject to the same rules that everybody else is subject to", then he is unusually unselfconscious about dishonesty.
If Gary Sick was right, and the US was expressing flexibility to resolve the dispute, then Obama would have left out the part about stockpiling material that could be used for a weapon. Iran has today about 5 tons of LEU. Very roughly, the US' goal in the original TRR offer was to lower Iran's stock to less than one ton. I can't speak for Iran, but it strikes me as very unlikely that Iran will submit to the condition that Obama reiterates when he says that.
Suppose that with all this pressure you have been able to put on Iran, and the economic pressure, suppose the consequence is that the price of oil keeps rising, but Iran does not make any significant concession. Won’t it be fair to say the policy will have failed?An implication of Obama's last statement is that the US' current policy of sanctions is the most likely to accomplish the goal of preventing Iran from attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities. What makes that interesting is that sanctions are unlikely to prevent Iran from attaining those capabilities, so Obama is very indirectly but correctly saying that a military strike is even more unlikely to prevent Iran from at least attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities.
It is fair to say that this isn’t an easy problem, and anybody who claims otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Obviously, Iran sits in a volatile region during a volatile period of time, and their own internal conflicts makes it that much more difficult, I think, for them to make big strategic decisions. Having said that, our goal consistently has been to combine pressure with an opportunity for them to make good decisions and to mobilize the international community to maximize that pressure.
Can we guarantee that Iran takes the smarter path? No. Which is why I have repeatedly said we don’t take any options off the table in preventing them from getting a nuclear weapon. But what I can confidently say, based on discussions that I’ve had across this government and with governments around the world, is that of all the various difficult options available to us, we’ve taken the one that is most likely to accomplish our goal and one that is most consistent with America’s security interest.
What Obama or a future US leader is going to have to say is: "We tried and it didn't work, so Israel is going to have to live with it." When Obama or a later US president gives an indication that he is ready to face that reality, then that indication will be a sign that a breakthrough over Iran's nuclear dispute is possible.
So far, contrary to Gary Sick, I don't see a good sign of that.