Saturday, March 20, 2010
The New York Times /
It was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who, nearly a year ago, fired the Obama administration’s first warning shots about imposing “crippling sanctions” against Iran. Then came President Obama’s declaration that if Iran did not respond to his overtures for a negotiated end to its production of nuclear fuel by the end of 2009, he would quickly add a “pressure track” to his diplomacy. At the beginning of this year, American and European officials predicted a sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council — the fourth in four years — by February to pave the way for much stronger crackdowns by individual countries. Now, all those projections look optimistic. The French are predicting no action until June. Many other Western allies agree. No one in the Obama administration has used the word “crippling” in public in a long while; instead, the new line is that taking time and maintaining unity — code words for Chinese and Russian cooperation — are more important than rushing ahead amid international divisions over how best to convince Iran that the cost of continuing uranium enrichment will be prohibitive.
The delays and the potential for a substantially watered-down resolution, Mr. Obama’s allies say, have put the administration’s credibility on the line in one of its biggest foreign policy challenges. But it also highlights the difficulty he has encountered demonstrating results from the underlying argument of his engagement with Iran: that if he made a bona fide effort to negotiate and was rebuffed, it would be a lot easier to win meaningful sanctions. Mr. Obama has stopped talking about timing, but he insists that he is driving toward sanctions far tougher than anything the Bush administration won. “We’re going to go after aggressive sanctions,” he said in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday. “We haven’t taken any options off the table,” he said, repeating the line that presidents use to hint that military options are still possible, though the Pentagon leadership has often said it believed that option could start a cascade of events that could spill out of control.