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The Candidates on Iran

By Glenn Kessler
If Iran is a Rorschach test, there are few issues with such stark differences among the three major party candidates.

The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonpartisan research organization, today released the candidates' responses on whether they would demand that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program.

The Bush administration has offered to join Tehran at the negotiating table with other major powers if it first agrees to suspend its uranium enrichment -- a key demand of numerous United Nations resolutions. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's approach sounds the closest to the Bush approach, though her statement leaves some wiggle room. Sen. Barack Obama would begin negotiations without making suspension a precondition, a significant shift from the current policy. And Sen. John McCain appears to roll back the Bush policy to the president's first term, not even mentioning the possibility of talks.

What the three candidates said, with a guide to some of the diplomatic language, follows the jump:

Clinton: "Iran's refusal to comply with legally binding United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend those programs raises additional doubts about its declared intention to abide by international treaty commitments not to pursue nuclear weapons. Iran should suspend its fuel-cycle programs -- its uranium enrichment program and heavy water-based plutonium production program. To seek such an outcome, the United States should engage in the kind of carrots and sticks diplomacy that has produced progress elsewhere. The United States should enter into direct talks with Iran, and continue to pursue vigorous diplomacy -- using both incentives and disincentives, if Iran is prepared to address U.S. and international concerns about its nuclear program, its support for terrorist groups, and its other unacceptable activities."

Analysis: Clinton mentions the U.N. requirement and says Iran "should suspend," but she also emphasizes direct talks if Iran would meet certain conditions. It not quite stated whether she would require suspension before talking, but that is clearly the implication.

Obama: "Iran must verifiably abandon its nuclear weapons program. To that end, Senator Obama has made clear that he will engage in direct negotiations with Iran, with the immediate objective of a suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment activities and a commitment to refrain from reprocessing plutonium. This is in keeping with Senator Obama's support for the IAEA Director General's call for a global 5-year moratorium on any construction of new national fuel cycle facilities. He will seek an immediate, global agreement on such a moratorium."

Analysis: Obama's statement is pretty straightforward. He would immediately begin talking, with the aim of achieving suspension. So he would abandon the current U.N. requirement, which is privately the preference of European allies.

McCain: "There is no circumstance under which the international community could be confident that uranium enrichment or plutonium production activities undertaken by the current government of Iran are purely for peaceful purposes. Given the Iranian regime's history of deception with regard to its nuclear program, its continuing lack of cooperation with the IAEA, its still unacknowledged work on weaponization, its defiance of international norms with regard to support for terrorism and threats toward Israel, and the lack of any serious economic justification for the program in the first place, Iran has forfeited any plausible claim to be pursuing a "peaceful" nuclear energy program. Accordingly, we must insist that the government of Iran permanently suspend its uranium enrichment activity and development of a plutonium production capability."

Analysis: McCain's language is strikingly tough. He even says Iran has no "economic justification" for nuclear power, which is an argument Bush abandoned in the second term. There is no discussion of negotiations, just an insistence that Iran stop its activities, which is similar to the approach that President Bush took in his first term.

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 29, 2008; 7:41 PM ET
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