It’s hard to take the administration seriously on Iran when it continually reveals how little it understands the Iranian regime and how absence is any sense of urgency. The Wall Street Journal reports:

What we’re looking for is progress,” said Jay Carney, the White House spokesman. “We’re looking for seriousness on the part of the Iranians in terms of addressing the concerns of the international community. And thus far, those expectations have been met.”

Really? Perhaps the administration has set its expectations too low. Or maybe it foolishly interprets more detailed discussion as “Iranian seriousness. If you thought that was bad, prepare yourself for a level of immaturity one could not have imagined, even with this crew:

U.S. officials involved in the negotiations said that despite major differences between the two sides, Iran, unlike in previous talks, was actively engaging on core issues of concern to the international community. “I believe we have the beginning of a negotiation,” said a senior U.S. official. “We have talked about all aspects” of Iran’s nuclear program.

The Americans again didn’t hold any bilateral meetings with the Iranian delegation in Baghdad. But Wendy Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation, did have an informal “chat” with Mr. Jalili “for a moment or two,” said U.S. officials.

“I feel like we are getting to know each other a little better,” said the senior U.S. official.

Frightful, isn’t it? If we don’t “get” the characters we are dealing with by now, there’s no hope, I am afraid, for any reasoned assessment of the Iranians’ motives.

The New York Times reported on the extent of the gap between the two sides: “Part of Iran’s proposal, never put into writing, centered on the demand that the global powers recognize its right to enrich, ‘something we are obviously not willing to do,’ a senior American official said after the talks.” I guess “getting to know each other” is not the real challenge; it is that Iran’s aims have been unaffected by sanctions.

Meanwhile, we now know Iran’s progress on enrichment has been swift: “United Nations nuclear inspectors in Iran have found trace amounts of uranium enriched beyond the highest previously reported levels, according to a diplomat in Vienna who said on Friday that the elevated reading would be addressed in a quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program.” While we are getting to know the Iranians, the Iranians are getting ever closer to a nuclear weapon:

The report, to be delivered to the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency later Friday, will include the figure of 27 percent enrichment, the diplomat said, a potentially alarming development since it moves the purity of Iran’s uranium enrichment closer toward bomb-grade material even as world powers are negotiating with Tehran to shift its nuclear program in the opposite direction.

I asked an expert involved in developing sanctions policy, Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, what he thought was going on. He was glum, telling me: “As Istanbul gives way to Baghdad and now to Moscow, one hopes the Obama administration is running out of patience as well as unfriendly capitals to host yet another round of talks.”

Between now and the next meeting, he recommends some spine stiffeners: “Now is the time to get the new Iran sanctions legislation into conference committee, strengthen it in some fundamental ways and get it passed. That’s the right message to the Iranians and those whose negotiating strategy is to cave at the first sign of Iranian brinksmanship.” Dubowitz urges the administration to support sanctions “that blacklist the entire energy industry as a zone of proliferation concern, shut down the use of energy companies like Naftiran Intertrade and all other Iranian energy entities used as Central Bank of Iran workarounds to settle oil trades, impose a comprehensive insurance embargo on the underwriting of any sanctionable activity, designate the National Iranian Oil Company, its scores of subsidiaries, and NITC (Iran’s tanker fleet), enforce a comprehensive embargo on the imports of all goods and services for Iran’s broader commercial sector except for food and medicine, and enforce the establishment of both Europe and the United States as Iranian oil-free zones.”

But given what we have seen so far, it is quite possible, even if sanctions pass, that the Iranians are unmoved. (Given how silly the U.S. negotiators sound, you’d understand if the Iranians were not quaking in their boots.) What then? Dubowitz is blunt: “Congress should then declare on a bipartisan basis that, despite the best efforts of the administration, all sanctions and diplomatic measures are exhausted. It then should require President Obama to follow through on his commitment to use other, more coercive instruments of American power to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), put out a statement, which reads in part: “The Iranian regime still hasn’t stopped enriching uranium, hasn’t turned over its enriched uranium stockpiles, and hasn’t let international inspectors into suspected weapons-related testing sites. In fact, all Iran has agreed to is further talks.” She concluded: “The endless negotiations are helpful only for Iran, no one else. Only crippling sanctions will stop the nightmare of a nuclear-armed Iran, the world’s leading state-sponsor of global terrorism, from becoming a reality.”

Those crippling sanctions that Dubowitz and Ros-Lehtinen describe should have been passed by the Senate months ago. Congress could by now have seen if sanctions are indeed useless. If they were, in fact, proved useless, Congress would be in a position to do exactly what Dubowitz recommends: Declare sanctions a failure. While the U.S. negotiators twiddle their thumbs and “get to know” the Iranians, Israel will need to decide just how long it will put up with the negotiations charade and how soon it must act. If the latest U.N. report is correct, it is sooner than we thought.