WASHINGTON – The deadline for a nuclear deal between Iran and the West is approaching, while no meaningful agreement is in sight. My prediction is that the negotiations will be extended, because breaking the talks now would confront President Obama with very unpleasant choices.
Admitting failure would mean that America would have “to do something” in order to prevent the unpleasant development of an Iran with nuclear weapons. But America is unwilling to go to war on this issue. And it is unlikely that the international community is willing to ratchet up biting economic sanctions in order to force Iran to give up its plans.
Therefore, let’s keep talking; even though it is obvious that these talks will lead to nothing substantial, simply because it is perfectly clear to all that Iran has no intentions to curb its nuclear program.
That said, Iran has a political and public relations interest in giving the impression that it is really trying to find a good solution. From their standpoint, let’s keep talking, for ever if necessary.
But why are we in this unfortunate situation? Who could be so naive to believe that Iran really meant to “solve” this problem through diplomacy? Let’s step back and look at the scenario.
If Iran really meant to have a nuclear program with only civilian applications it would have gone about this endeavor in an entirely different way. It does not take a genius to appreciate that nuclear facilities aimed at producing energy do not need to be buried underground or deep in mountains, in multiple, hardened locations.
If Iran had no ambition to manufacture nuclear weapons, it would have presented all its plans to the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA), in an open and totally transparent way. It would have opened all its facilities to IAEA inspectors.
It would have been proactive in providing any kind of additional information and clarifications about the size and scope of its nuclear program and details about all its inventories, equipment and suppliers.
Well, it is pretty clear that Iran did not go about it this way. And it is also clear that Iran is not going about this way even now, as it is negotiating with the US, the other 4 permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, China, France and the UK) and Germany, (this format is often described as P 5+1).
So, where are we now? Not in a good place. Iran has essentially won the most critical public relations fight. The very fact that there are negotiations de facto legitimizes Iran’s positions. The fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with his Iranian counterpart “demonstrates” that Iran is no longer a rogue state. Of course, the optimists in the West will argue that, as long as we talk, there will be no armed confrontation, and this is by definition a good thing.
A deal will legitimize Iran’s program
In the end, realistically I see only two scenarios. Either we keep talking with Tehran for ever, without reaching any conclusion; or we get a bad deal whereby Iran gets to keep all it has, while “promising” that it will go no further. In practice this would mean that Iran will be allowed to have all it takes to develop a nuclear weapon in only a matter of months, should it decide to break the agreement.
In practice, such a deal would legitimize Iran’s military nuclear weapons goal, under the officially endorsed –even though truly preposterous– claim that Tehran is pursuing only civilian nuclear power.
Needless to say, the countries in the region would get the message: “Iran won, while America lost, simply because Washington could not contemplate military action aimed at disabling Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
Bottom line: Iran wins, politically and strategically. As a quasi-nuclear state that happily continues to invest in new, long-range ballistic missiles Tehran’s not so subtle message to its rivals will be: “I may not have a nuclear weapon today; but you know that I can get one in no time. So, you better behave accordingly”.