On Friday, the NY Times — which often speaks for the Obama Administration — published an article about the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. There is a message between the lines, and it is not very well hidden. Here are a few excerpts with added emphasis, in case it isn’t obvious:
With signs that Iran is under more pressure than it has been in years to make a deal, senior Obama administration officials said the United States and five other major powers were prepared to offer a package of inducements to obtain a verifiable agreement to suspend its efforts to enrich uranium closer to weapons grade…
The major powers’ initial goal is to halt the activity that most alarms Israel: the spinning of thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity, which is within striking distance of the level needed to fuel a nuclear weapon. That would buy time for negotiations…
For President Obama, the stakes are huge. A successful meeting could prolong the diplomatic dance with Tehran, delaying any possible military confrontation over the nuclear program until after the presidential election. It could also keep a lid on oil prices, which fell again this week in part because of the decrease in tensions. Lower gasoline prices would aid the economic recovery in the United States, and Mr. Obama’s electoral prospects…
On Tuesday, the American ambassador to Israel, Daniel B. Shapiro, sought to reassure an Israeli audience that the United States not only was willing to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but had made preparations to do so…
Analysts said it was hard to gauge what kinds of concessions from the Western nations, Russia and China would draw a positive response from Iran, beyond lifting the oil embargo. European officials have suggested that the European Union could suspend a ban on insuring oil tankers that has had a far swifter effect on Iran’s sales elsewhere in the world than originally intended.
There is lots more, but that is more than enough. Is the message clear? If not, I’ll spell it out:
- The immediate problem, in the view of the Obama Administration, is that Israel might attack Iran, causing a spike in gas prices in the US and hurting the President’s chances for re-election. The Iranian program itself is a longer-term issue.
- Anything that can delay a confrontation is ‘good’. Negotiations can be used to stay Israel’s hand, not so much by holding out hope for a solution, but by undercutting support for Israel if she should attack while they are going on.
- Any kind of agreement with the Iranians, whether or not it is tough enough to be effective, will also isolate Israel if she chooses to attack.
- The strategy for obtaining agreement, rather than increasing pressure on Iran, will be to make concessions, even reducing those sanctions which have proven effective. Since Iran and the administration have a common interest in preventing an attack, the administration can be hopeful that they will be ‘successful’.
Although the US has stressed that contingency plans for an American raid exist, the Iranians know that nothing short of a public test of a nuclear device could make it happen before the election (even that is uncertain). In the meantime, Iran hopes to push its program to the point that it will be immune to an Israeli attack. The regime is confident that it can stay behind the American red line after that, while still obtaining a capability to assemble weapons in a very short time frame.
Placing concessions on the table before serious negotiations even begin will be read as a sign of weakness. And the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany) demands are below what Israel considers the minimum to guarantee that Iran will not get a weapon. For example, Israel wants the Fordow enrichment facility dismantled, while the P5+1 only asks for activities there to stop. And this is before the hard bargaining.
These negotiations will not enhance Israel’s security. Rather, they will do the opposite. They represent a strategy of appeasement rather than the use of power. What should happen is that the West should deliver a credible ultimatum to fully dismantle the program or face sharply increased sanctions — or, ultimately, military action. Instead, they have chosen to weaken sanctions and to try to remove the only real military threat!
The fact that the negotiations are being conducted without the presence of the one party that is most threatened has a whiff of Chamberlain’s 1938 about it.