On November 18, Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki rejected a proposal that his country should export some 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium for further processing abroad. On November 20, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany met in Brussels and urged Iran to reconsider. “I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door,” explained Barack Obama, though he noted at the same time, “Over the next several weeks, we will be developing a package of potential steps . . . that would indicate our seriousness to Iran.” Russia’s foreign ministry, as usual, contradicted him: “There is currently no discussion on working out additional sanctions against Iran.”
So was this merely the latest manifestation of the same fruitless maneuvering that has gone on every year since the struggle over Iran’s nuclear weapons began in 2003? Not at all. It was not the ploys of the Iranians that provoked astonishment at the most recent negotiations in Geneva and Vienna, but rather the attitude of the United States.
Whereas in the past Washington sought to increase pressure on Iran, and Europe stepped on the brakes, today it is Obama who is stepping on the brakes while France and Great Britain push for sanctions. Whereas George W. Bush denounced the Islamism of the Iranian regime, his successor attempts to ingratiate himself by offering compliments and apologies. Whereas before it was the Europeans who packaged their failures as successful “dialogue,” now it is Washington that does so.