Will Obama get tough with Tehran?
A report in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago suggested that a turnaround in U.S. policy toward Iran might be coming:
The U.S. and representatives of the European Union have agreed to impose joint sanctions against Iran in January and are considering breaking off talks with the country, as patience with Tehran's nuclear activities wears thin, according to people familiar with the matter.
Western officials are discussing making further talks with Iran contingent on Tehran's progress toward compliance with existing United Nations Security Council resolutions, which call on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
Could the Obama administration really be stiffening its spine and responding to the advice of those warning that talks with the Iranian regime are counterproductive?
Well, we haven't seen any concrete signs that the administration is getting ready to break off talks. Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative responded to my inquiry on the subject by e-mail:
Any new sanctions that can be agreed on with the Europeans are a positive development, but I'm skeptical that they will be the "crippling" sanctions we were promised but have yet to see. I also haven't seen any indication that the administration is willing to set aside the now ludicrous notion that Iran can be persuaded via negotiations to halt its nuclear weapons program.
More optimistic about the administration's resolve is an advisor to a key senator who has been urging a tougher line on Iran:
For all of us who feared engagement meant that Obama was going to be weak and naïve towards Iran, the opposite possibility is looming larger as we head into 2011 -- namely, that only Nixon could go to China.... My point is just that they are very well-positioned to pursue a very hawkish policy towards Iran now.
Time will tell who is right, but whatever position the administration takes will be greatly undermined by two decisions from earlier in Obama's term. First, administration officials have, from the get-go, downplayed the threat of military force. This provides comfort to the Iranian regime and makes the job of persuading the regime to give up its nuclear program that much more difficult. And second, we have done a poor job of supporting the Green Movement, and arguably have undercut the efforts of the regime's opponents. So, if part of the effort is to exert maximum pressure on the regime, we have, by defunding a number of groups aiding the Green Movement and by bestowing the aura of legitimacy on the despotic regime, undercut our own goal.
For those of us who believe sanctions in and of themselves will not force the regime to give up its nuclear program, the question should not simply be whether more sanctions and less talk are in the offing. The real issue is whether the administration will, if needed, employ force to disarm the revolutionary Islamic state. I remain extremely doubtful that this administration will. I hope I am wrong, or that through continued espionage we can delay the Iranians' nuclear progress until a president arrives on the scene who has no qualms about threatening and using force to defend vital American interests.
| December 21, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories: Iran, foreign policy
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