Despite talk in recent weeks that the Iranian regime could back off its efforts to develop an atomic weapon, hopes for any negotiated solution seem to be fading fast. This has left President Obama vaguely threatening action against Tehran. But the lack of international consensus on the issue – coupled with the administration’s adamant refusal to consider the use of force – means that the president is left shooting diplomatic blanks.
Iran had originally agreed in principle to an exchange of fuel with Russia and France. According to the plan, Iran would ship enriched uranium to those nations in exchange for processed fuel. This fuel, while sufficient to generate electricity and rare isotopes needed to treat cancer, would not be potent enough to build nuclear warheads. Additionally, since Iran’s fuel would arrive from external sources, Western intelligence would no longer be in the dark as to the state of Iran’s nuclear program. In theory, they would know its status to the very last gram of nuclear material.
Iran has now backed away from this agreement. Tehran now insists that it would not give up its uranium until already in possession of Russian fuel. Given that the entire purpose of the endeavor is to deny Iran usable nuclear fuel, rewarding them for non-compliance would be counter-productive. Iranian diplomats and officials have mused about a “simultaneous swap” of fuel to take place on Iranian soil, but considering their past record of revoking agreements, it is doubtful that any country would trust the regime enough to fly in fresh nuclear fuel before first being given material proof of Iran’s willingness to cooperate.
All this plays into Tehran’s hand. They get all the positive publicity of appearing to be negotiating earnestly, while retaining possession of their fuel. With each day, Iran moves closer to deploying nuclear warheads, and the world is left playing games. The president and his supporters have failed to grasp that salient truth. Iran has not given up its nuclear program because Iran wants nuclear weapons. And Iran can’t be convinced to do give up its nuclear ambitions absent the threat of serious reprisal.
Short of this, it will continue to delay, hedge, equivocate and manipulate. International diplomacy will continue to plod along at its snail’s pace, Iran will throw a wrench into the works every few months by offering a proposal it has no intention of honoring, and the cycle will repeat until Iran finally announces to the world that it has a bomb. Once it becomes a nuclear power, Iran will be virtually immune from military attack, since even a handful of nuclear weapons make for a dreadfully frightening deterrent.
Fresh off his Asian trip, President Obama has been confronted by the inconvenient truth that his preferred option for dealing with Iran — enticing them into giving up their nuclear program — can’t possibly go anywhere until the Iranians are willing to play ball. He’s done his best to drum up international support, but the response has been tepid at best. Despite his offering up the Bush-era missile defense program as a sacrificial lamb, Russia has not moved away from its position against firm action against Iran. China, likewise, while willing to mouth platitudes about Iran’s need to cooperate with the international community, has consistently refused to support any strong measures against one of its major sources of petroleum. No Western European nation has shown any particular eagerness to take a hard-line with Iran, either.
If Obama insists on waiting for international consensus, he’ll never get there. Iran’s nuclear scientists work faster than international diplomacy. So what will he do? Likely, nothing that will matter. The president, while meeting with the South Korean leadership, told reporters that he was losing patience with Iran, and that America and its allies were discussing fresh sanctions against Iran. Tehran quite rightly brushed off the threat, knowing full well that the only sanctions that will be palatable enough to be mutually acceptable to the international community will be so weak as to be meaningless. Indeed, Iran thumbed its nose at Obama’s words, announcing a major series of military exercises. Clearly, this is not a regime that will be intimidated by bluster.
Iran has made it manifestly clear that it will build a bomb. At this very moment, Iranian scientists are working diligently to advance their country’s nuclear capacity. That leaves the Obama administration with few options. Either it must devise some effective way to arrest Iran’s nuclear progress, or it must permit Israel to take the military action that the administration will not. Anything else would be mere hollow posturing, and the world already has a surplus of that.