October 31, 2009

Iran - continuing to play the West

Iran continues to effectively conduct its foreign policy, often at the expense of American foreign policy. In the last few months, the Iranians have virtually halted the West's efforts to stop its uranium enrichment efforts, have consistently delayed the imposition of sanctions, and in their last horse-trading have succeeded in getting a one-on-one meeting between Iranian and American officials. By having the United States back a plan whereby Iran would export 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium for further processing in Russia and France, Tehran has legitimized its uranium enrichment program.

Once the Iranians achieved that de facto legitimacy, they immediately began the process to renege on the deal. It's typical of the Iranians - agree, then reconsider and ask for changes to the terms, then agree to talk about the need for more talks. While this diplomatic charade goes on, the centrifuges at Natanz, and soon Qom, continue to spin. When the Iranians talk again, it will be about how much enriched uranium they should consider exporting, not whether or not they should be enriching uranium in the first place. The have in effect gained that right.

The Iranians have been very effective in manipulating the West, and now embarrassing President Obama, whether he knows it or not. For all of the overtures made to Iran by the Obama Administration since it took office in January, there has been virtually no progress. Let's look at what Iran is doing right now:

- continues to process uranium
- continues to defy the United Nations and Western powers
- continues to strengthen its relationship with Russia and China - which almost certainly takes meaningful international sanctions off the table
- continues to provide money, weapons and training not only to the Shi'a militias in Iraq but now to elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan
- continues to repress any political dissent in the country
- continues to hold three young American hikers for a minor trespassing incident

The Iranians are masters at playing the West. When they agreed to the uranium export proposal, they had no intention of giving up their enriched uranium. Almost immediately after the agreement was made public, "senior Iranian lawmakers" back in Tehran voiced opposition to the idea and countered that they should not export their uranium for further processing, but instead demanded that the West sell them fuel for the research reactor - I called this "Having their (yellow) cake and eating it too."

The much publicized internal Iranian debate is a sham. There is only one voice that counts in Iran and it belongs to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He will make the decision about what Iran will do despite the support or objection of so-called senior Iranian lawmakers. That debate is for show - the Iranians intend to keep their uranium and continue to demand that the West send them even more. If it wasn't so serious, it would be almost comical.

In the last blast of rhetoric from the Iranians, they proposed that the United States and Iran continue to expand their one-on-one dialog, a key goal of the regime in Tehran. This ill-advised dialogue only legitimizes the regime and its nuclear ambitions. The Iranians even went so far as to offer to have Americans present at their nuclear facilities. Clever - the presence of Americans at what may become targets of Israeli military strikes complicates planning in Tel Aviv.

In response to the Iranian stalling and demands to purchase uranium, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waffled, saying she would "let this process play out." She further said that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany "are all united and showing resolve in responding to the Iranian response and seeking clarifications. We are working to determine exactly what they are willing to do, whether this was an initial response that is an end response or whether it's the beginning of getting to where we expect them to end up."

Huh? I thought the Iranians were masters of rhetoric, but Mrs. Clinton has also succeeded in using a lot of words to say nothing. Is she serious? The IAEA is worthless - just take the Iranian issue as an example. The permanent members of the Security Council are united? Has she heard the Russian and Chinese statements opposing sanctions on Iran?

While the President and his Secretary of State "let the process play out," Iran continues to effectively pursue its foreign policy objectives virtually unhampered by Washington. Does "play out" mean the announcement that they have a nuclear weapon?