November 14, 2014

Iranian nuclear talks - maybe time to walk away?

The only thing spinning faster than Iran's almost 20,000 centrifuges is the rhetoric coming from both sides of the issue.

According to the Iranians, 90 percent of the issues have been resolved. The American negotiator, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, says "there has been impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable. We have cleared up misunderstandings and held exhaustive discussions on every element of a possible text."

Amazing - you would think that with those statements from the two participants who matter the most, we are on the verge of a groundbreaking agreement that will end Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and that the economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic are about to be lifted.

You would be wrong.

The talks are nowhere - all the years of "negotiating" (if it can be called that) - have yielded almost nothing positive for anyone but Iran. While the P5+1 (the five permanent member nations of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) have been attempting to convince Iran to abandon its drive to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, Iran has been aggressively enriching uranium and building a reactor that can produce plutonium. We're talking while they are pursuing two separate efforts to acquire the fissile material required to produce nuclear weapons.

Time is and has been on Iran's side. In all of the years of talks on this issue, the Iranians have not agreed to much, and those conditions they they do accept, they violate. It is their strategy - keep the talks going while they develop the materials needed for a weapon. Each and every time the talks are about to collapse and the threats of additional sanctions loom on the horizon, Iran agrees to more talks, or agrees to talk about having more talks.

That is what is happening yet again. There are 10 days remaining until the next deadline, another deadline in an series of deadlines. In November 2013, the P5+1 and Iran reached an interim deal - at that point Iran agreed to reduce some of its enrichment activity in return for the easing of some of the economic sanctions. The parties agreed to continue the process for one year, with a new deadline of November 24, 2014. There was a strange mechanism of allowing "negotiations" until July 20, 2014, followed by four months of drafting the agreement.

As most Middle East analysts predicted, the negotiating period and drafting period have almost expired, and there is no deal in sight. Faced with the November 24 deadline, there are calls for yet another extension. Yes, the P5+1 will agree to talk, and the Iranians will continue to expand their inventory of fissile material. However, it gets better. Some of the parties are proposing that during the new extension period, there be additional sanctions relief for the Iranian economy, which is in a recession.

This is insanity. It rewards Iran's refusal to make any serious concessions in its enrichment activity. The Iranians have learned over the years that their intransigence is usually met with P5+1 concessions. It is the same cycle over and over.

Perhaps it is time to tell the Iranians that the time for talking is over, that additional tougher economic sanctions are a virtual certainty in the wake of the Republican gains in the recent U.S. elections, and that under no circumstances will the Islamic Republic be allowed to develop the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

President Obama needs to stick to his original position that no deal is better than a bad deal. Here are the conditions, what is your answer: yes or no? A "no" response means the imposition of crippling sanctions we have been promising for years.

If that doesn't work, nothing has been taken off the table. Iranian leaders only need look to the west and south - there is a lot of American airpower in the region dealing with ISIS, based in countries that are not favorable to the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

If that sounds like a threat, so be it.