Saturday, December 26, 2009

Time to Be Tough

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As 2009 draws to a close, President Barack Obama is expected to take stock of his diplomatic overture to Iran. He will not be able to avoid the conclusion that his approach so far has achieved next to nothing: Iran continues to progress, without consequences, toward military nuclear capability. The one hope for a breakthrough agreement - the nuclear fuel deal offered in October - was dashed when Iran not only rejected the deal, but responded with further defiance: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Iran's intent to build 10 additional uranium enrichment facilities. Moreover, the UN Security Council's permanent members are not in agreement on moving to harsher economic sanctions. Does this mean that the diplomatic track is hopeless? Not yet. What it does mean is that diplomacy and negotiations are anything but easy to carry out. And if the United States is truly serious about diplomacy, that seriousness must be apparent in its own approach, and then brought into play in its interactions with Iran. Some assume that diplomacy is synonymous with a softer approach to international challenges, one that focuses on engagement and reassurance rather than more forceful confrontation.

But that isn't the case here, because the Americans have undertaken to convince Iran to back down from a goal that it is highly motivated and determined to achieve. This means that the diplomatic process must be a game of hardball. The fact that it will be a "war" of words rather than a military struggle does not imply that any less determination, focus and resolve will be required of the United States if it is to succeed. Perhaps ironically, the developments of 2009 put America in a better position to pursue tough diplomacy in two important respects. First, evidence of Iran's military ambitions has mounted. Serious questions and concerns about the nature of the country's activities are coming from the International Atomic Energy Agency itself; of particular note is the "secret annex" to its reports on Iran - details of which were leaked to the press over the summer. To this one must add the revelation of the enrichment facility near Qom; Mohamed ElBaradei's lamentations before leaving the IAEA over the "dead end" reached with Iran; and the recent Times of London report on Iranian work on a neutron initiator since 2007. The upshot of this is that the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate has been rendered virtually obsolete, and the burden of proof is now on those who continue to adhere to the view that Iran's intentions are not military. (Read more...)