The Times of Israel reports: “Iran became more adamant Monday that the world must remove the sanctions that are choking off its oil sales before it will curb activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons, diplomats said. The development dampened hopes that talks this week in Moscow could bridge the gaps between the two sides.” (If any of our diplomats were really hoping for a breakthrough, one has to doubt their ability to realistically assess where things stand.) The expected occurred: More stalling. (“The six had hoped that Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili would respond directly to their demand that his country stop enriching to 20 percent and related requests, said the diplomats, who demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the closed session. Instead, they said he presented his side’s conditions for meaningful negotiations, including a request for ‘comprehensive sanctions relief,’ they said.”)
The State Department spokeswoman couldn’t conceal the absence of even a shred of progress. There was this exchange at Monday’s briefing:
QUESTION: On Ambassador – on Under Secretary Sherman, is that meeting over yet? Do you have any – is there any early word on what happened?
MS. NULAND: They’ve ended for the day. I think Lady Ashton’s been out or at least maybe her spokesperson has been out and certainly made clear that – well, they had two sessions today. They had a morning session and they had an afternoon session. I think the expectation on our side is that talks are going to continue tomorrow. The EU spokesperson, as I understand it, did give some interviews today and called the exchanges “intense and tough,” and did reaffirm that the sanctions that the EU has in place starting July 1st will go forward.
But other than that, I think we’ll wait and hear how things go tomorrow, and then I would expect the usual drill, where Lady Ashton speaks for the five.
QUESTION: Do you – would you agree or would – does the U.S. agree with the “intense and tough” characterization, which seems to be a far cry from the “positive and constructive” phrasing. Do you have any --
MS. NULAND: I think we stand by with the EU’s characterization today.
Translation: If I had something positive to say, I’d be telling you.
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has been instrumental in drafting and supporting sanctions legislation. In an email he argued the U.S. and EU negotiators should hang tough:
The West’s sanctions — the reason the Iranians showed up in Moscow — have been an alternative to war. Those who want these talks to go on will be enormously tempted to make concessions to Tehran. Stand too firm and Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, might walk. Like his former patron Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the true father of Iran’s nuclear program, Khamenei has supported the atomic quest since the mid-1980s, when it was still covert. He has spent billions to develop what appears to be every component of a nuclear-armed missile.
Americans and Europeans certainly don’t want to appear to cave — pride, politics and fear of the Israelis all matter. So they may be tempted to attempt to give Tehran economic relief by not strictly enforcing sanctions to clearly signal that the West wants the negotiations to continue.
They could also take the wrong-headed advice of those who believe that a “process of incremental concessions” and “confidence building measures” require us to ease sanctions -- or impose no new sanctions -- in return for commitments by the Iranians to stop enrichment at 20 percent. They might also buy into Iranian talking points that the Iranian regime has a “right to domestic enrichment” to 5 percent under the NPT. This is a right they explicitly don’t have even if they were in full compliance with their NPT obligations. Over thirty counties have a nuclear energy program; only about eleven have domestic enrichment programs. Surely, given its past behavior, the Iran regime doesn’t deserve to be counted amongst the responsible dozen.
Dubowitz also cautions about slicing a deal too thin. “At 5 percent, the regime would be two-thirds of their way toward making bomb-grade uranium. By drawing the red line on enrichment at the higher level of 20 percent, the West will leave Tehran with about 13,000 pounds of low¬enriched uranium today, enough to make five nuclear weapons. Iran would be free to continue its 5 percent stockpile and its centrifuge development, the real key to an undetectable breakout.”
Iran’s disinclination even to appear serious is a measure of how little it fears the United States and how little credibility President Obama has.
Unless a minor miracles occurs this round of talks, like all that preceded it will end without tangible movement by Iran. Is it time to admit that neither talking or sanctions are going to shake the mullahs’ determination to obtain nuclear weapons?
At this point we should decline to engage in further meaningless talks. The president would be wise to call up Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to tell him to get cracking on the conference committee and send the oil sanctions bill to his desk. We would then be wise to very publicly show signs of military preparedness including consultations with our allies in the region. As Dubowitz puts it: “For those who fear another conflagration in the Middle East, that ought to be a compelling reason to hang tough in Moscow, massively ratchet up the sanctions, and make it clear that the U.S. will destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program through military force. It would also be useful to communicate to Khamenei that the administration will use every instrument of U.S. power to bring down his regime if he doesn’t yield on the nuclear program. Odds are, however, we will do none of this as our instinct for compromise deludes us into thinking that the regime responds better to confidence building measures than to fear inducing ones.”
I too am doubtful Obama will act decisively; I have no doubt the Israeli government will do so after a brief time to see if oil sanctions cause Iran to capitulate.