Get tough with Iran
The seven-month extension agreed to Monday in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear future is unlikely to produce better results than the past year of fruitless talks, unless the United States and its allies get more realistic about the nature of its bargaining partner.
Increasingly, the worst fears that rose at the beginning of the talks are materializing. Iran appears more interested in buying time to edge closer to nuclear weapons capability than it is in defusing tensions with the West.
Iran is dragging its feet. The Obama administration has already made too many concessions in relaxing sanctions in exchange for minor and symbolic gestures from Iran. Giving further ground in the name of a meaningless deal would be unwise and dangerous.
Iran still has given no indication that it will dismantle its nuclear program. That’s the only acceptable outcome of these talks.
Instead, there is strong evidence that Iran has continued research and development on advanced centrifuges. It is also stonewalling the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past weaponization activity.
Knowledge of what Iran has done previously to secretly produce a nuclear weapon is essential for establishing a baseline for future verification.
At the bargaining table, Iran has dodged firm limits on its enrichment capacity, and wants sunset provisions on any limitations that are put in place. It also has rejected demands that it reduce its number of centrifuges — it has 10,000 operating and another 9,000 that can be quickly brought online.
That gives Iran the capability of rapidly completing the steps to produce weapons-grade uranium should it choose to break any pact that is signed.
Allowing a country with a history of deceit to maintain a nuclear infrastructure assures the failure of any deal absent a very aggressive and transparent inspection regime. Iran has been caught cheating too many times to be trusted not to act covertly.
While conceding nothing, Iran is seeking a more rapid timetable for lifting remaining sanctions.
Instead, President Barack Obama should heed the demands from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and tighten the screws on Iran until it gets serious about these talks.
The president has suggested he once again will bypass Congress to do the accord with Iran by executive order. That’s a mistake. Iran obviously sees Obama as a pushover; it knows, however, that it faces a tougher obstacle in Congress.
With the easing of sanctions, Iran’s economy is growing for the first time in two years. The threat of a return to tougher economic penalties would focus Iran’s attention during this extension, and give the administration more leverage.
The U.S. and its partners — the five permanent United Nations Security Council members, plus Germany — must honestly assess whether the Iranian negotiating team even has the power to make a deal. So far, the negotiators seem to be teasing the partners to win relief from sanctions, without any signal Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will sign on.
Having entered into negotiations with an untrustworthy and insincere partner, the United States now must figure out how to conclude the bargaining without leaving Iran in a better position to realize its nuclear ambitions.