In a new package of proposals released last week to the major powers, Iran expressed a willingness to discuss global nuclear disarmament. Unsurprisingly, nowhere did Iran mention its own nuclear program, which authorities implausibly insist is for civil energy. Despite this, the Obama administration is eager to embark on negotiations without preconditions. The only way to justify this enthusiasm is to recognize that the White House cares more about gestures than actual results.
Take, for instance, Thursday’s interview in the Washington Post with Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who rebuffed American efforts to punish Iran’s insistence on nuclear proliferation: “Not only did we not give up, but we increased our efforts and made more and more achievements. We passed all these barriers, one by one.” Does this sound like a country eager to engage in disarmament? He continued to assert that Iran forbids weapons of mass destruction on religious grounds. How then does Iran justify ruthlessly beating pro-Democratic protesters?
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told journalists aboard Air Force One on Saturday: “We’re not talking for talking’s sake. This may not be a topic they wanted to be brought up, but I can assure you that it’s a topic that we’ll bring up … The Iranians have responsibilities … to walk away from their ballistic nuclear weapons program … That’s our goal.” But simply raising a topic that the Iranians dislike is setting the bar rather low.
As Emily Landau, director of the arms control and regional security project at the Institute for National Security Studies, notes, every negotiation that has followed this pattern has resulted in failure. This is just “a further step in Iran’s overall strategy of stalling — injecting just enough cooperation at strategic junctures in order to ward off the harshest measures.” This meshes nicely with what former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton described as the administration’s desire to negotiate for negotiation’s sake.
This is the very ticking time bomb scenario politicians have debated for years. The administration has set a deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear activities by the end of 2009. If the president is serious about getting results, maybe it’s time to raise the stakes and start setting preconditions.