On Friday, I called attention to a report that the US and Iran had made a secret agreement to end sanctions in return for a halt or pause in uranium enrichment. I suggested that this could be an “October Surprise:” the Obama campaign could claim that the President’s policy of partial sanctions and “tough diplomacy” had forced the Iranians to back down from their march toward nuclear weapons.
In fact, I said, such a deal would be more likely to guarantee the success of the Iranian program than to stop it. But by the time this became clear, the election would be over.
Yesterday the NY Times reported (based on remarks by unnamed Obama Administration officials) that in fact the US and Iran had recently reached a secret understanding, but only to hold one-on-one talks on the nuclear issue:
It has the potential to help Mr. Obama make the case that he is nearing a diplomatic breakthrough in the decade-long effort by the world’s major powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but it could pose a risk if Iran is seen as using the prospect of the direct talks to buy time. (my emphasis)
In what is perhaps a Freudian slip, the Times writers note a “risk” — to Obama’s reelection — if this gambit is perceived by voters as futile, but not in that it might actually help the Iranian regime realize its plans!
Iran has denied the report. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor also denied it, in a carefully worded statement, saying “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections.” The Times article suggests that there is an agreement in principle, but not a “final agreement.”
It seems to me that simply talking with Iran would not give a significant boost to the Obama campaign, especially if there were any concessions to the regime required just to begin talks.
But it would not surprise me to hear that secret negotiations were presently in progress to try to reach a substantive agreement of some kind before the election, because a deal that could be presented as a victory for the president and his policy would be huge.
This presents a clear moral choice for President Obama and his advisers. Should they go for a big “victory” that will at best give Iran more time and at worst provide it with the cover it needs to go nuclear — and gain 5 points in the polls?
It will certainly tempting for the administration to go for a deal. After all, they may rationalize, they can fix things up after they are reelected.
There is enough uncertainty already, about the amount of enriched uranium Iran already has, about secret installations, about the progress of their weaponization program, etc. The last thing we should do is give them any more time or wiggle room.
We don’t need a “diplomatic breakthrough.” We need to tighten sanctions and follow up with a credible threat of military action. That is the announcement I hope to hear from the president in the next two weeks.