Jonathan S. Tobin 4-5-13
The P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran resumed today in Almaty, Kazakhstan with Western negotiators hoping that the concessions they made to the Islamist regime in their last meeting would pay off with something they could label as “progress.” Acting on behalf of the United States and its allies, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had offered Iran the possibility of easing up on sanctions if only they would demonstrate that they were telling the truth about not working to build a nuclear weapon. But despite these high hopes and the certain knowledge that the West was willing to compromise about letting them keep some of their nuclear toys, the Iranians showed up today offering Ashton and company nothing.
As they have done in every other negotiation with the West over the last decade, the Iranians stiffed the P5+1 group by arriving at the table unprepared to give an inch, even in exchange for the concessions previously offered. As Laura Rozen reports from Almaty, this left Western negotiators “puzzled” as the Iranians insisted on discussing “modalities for negotiations rather than specific steps discussed at two recent rounds of talks this spring.” While the Iranians described their approach as one that offered a new plan for resolving the impasse, what they were really doing was what they have always done: running out the clock. With their reported 10,000 centrifuges continuing to enrich uranium that can be eventually used to build a weapon, they are getting closer every day to realizing their nuclear ambition while the West continues to sputter and demand new opportunities for the ayatollahs’ representatives to make fools of them.
This latest fiasco raises the question of how long President Obama, who pointedly said that he did not see the negotiating process with Iran as being open-ended during his trip to Israel last month, will continue the charade that diplomacy has a chance to stop Tehran’s nuclear threat.
While expectations for this round of a process that has been dragging on for over a year were modest, the Iranians’ refusal to directly respond to the last Western offer is disappointing even by the low standards set by past negotiations. The West was hoping for at least some give and take on their bargaining position, which would have allowed Iran to keep its program but require it to shut down its hardened mountain bunker facility at Fordow and stop enriching uranium at percentages that make it obvious they are working toward a bomb rather than research as they claim.
Instead, the Iranians are continuing to grandstand about the need for the talks to enshrine their “right” to enrich uranium and to insist that the West drop sanctions as part of a confidence building process rather than after the nuclear threat is actually defused. Indeed, they are making it quite clear that they won’t stop the enrichment until the sanctions are halted. Since even those most determined to appease Iran understand that once sanctions are eased they are unlikely to be restored, this would be a virtual guarantee that Iran gets its nuke long before the diplomatic process concludes.
This is a significant indicator of just how confident Iran feels about its ability to withstand Western pressure as well as how unimpressed it is by President Obama’s threats about the use of force still being an option.
If they had taken up the West’s offer, there is every chance that a deal that would have allowed them to hold onto their nuclear program would have eventually resulted in a bomb. Just like their friends in North Korea, who also took Western bribes in exchange for ending their nuclear development, Iran would have found it easy to cheat. But apparently the Iranians don’t feel the need to show that kind of patience. They think Obama and his allies are bluffing and that they can continue to prevaricate in the P5+1 talks or any other diplomatic forum for as long as necessary until they get their weapon.
While we can expect the Almaty meeting to end with the promise to meet again, the Iranian response to the West’s offer is ironclad proof that the diplomatic process has conclusively failed. The only question is how long it will take for President Obama to admit it. The clock continues to tick down until the moment when Iran achieves its goal. If the president is to make good on his repeated promises never to allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, that’s an admission that will have to come sooner rather than later.