epa04501941 (L-R) Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrive for a group photo during the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia, USA) and Iran in Vienna, Austria, 24 November 2014. Chief diplomats from Iran and six world powers started a flurry of meetings on 24 November in Vienna ahead of a midnight deadline to end the dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme, but an extension of the talks seemed increasingly likely, negotiators said. EPA/ROLAND SCHLAGER EPA/ROLAND SCHLAGER EPA/ROLAND SCHLAGER From left, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrive for a group photo during talks in Vienna last year. (Roland Schlager/European Pressphoto Agency)

The New York Sun editorial board tells us: “The Gods of Irony certainly were on their game when they had the Iranians interrupt their plot to acquire an atomic bomb so they could seize a ship flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. The Marshalls are levying a lawsuit at the Hague against the nine nuclear powers for failing to live up to their obligations to reduce their arsenals and prevent nuclear proliferation. In the midst of this the Iranians are forcing the Marshalls to test the defense obligations of one of the lawsuit defendants, our own America. Maybe settlement talks could be held at Bikini.”

Unfortunately, we are seeing the continuation of a disturbing pattern. In Ukraine, we pledged to support that country’s territorial integrity if it gave up its nukes. It gave up the nukes and we gave up defending its territory, a chunk of which Russia now occupies. With regard to the Marshall Islands, we are obligated to provide defense, but yesterday the State Department could not manage to condemn the Iranians’ action or admit that the seizure violated freedom of the seas.

Michael Makovsky, chief executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), observed: “What matters is if the US will retain any credibility amid a regional retreat in favor of Iran. Just last week Obama Administration officials claimed US naval ships near Yemen weren’t out to interdict Iranian ships supplying weapons to the Houthis in that country (who ran out of the country the American and Saudi supported leader) but intended to ensure freedom of navigation and movement.” He continued, “With this seizure, and the reported temporary interception of a US-flagged ship on Friday, some Iranians seem intent to test whether Obama is willing even to fulfill this commitment in the Persian Gulf, which goes back at least to President Jimmy Carter.”

As the Wall Street Journal notes, “About 30% of the world’s crude oil trade goes through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, making it the world’s most critical energy-shipping chokepoint, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Iran has threatened in the past to blockade the 21-mile-wide strait. But any such action would likely be met with a swift military response from the U.S. and other world powers.” Really? It seems there is very little that could provoke the United States, so perhaps Iran plans to snatch ships intermittently, thereby disrupting traffic and achieving the same result as a formal blockade.

This is only the latest incident that argues in favor of ending talks with Iran altogether until we can address and bring about a halt to its aggressive international behavior. “The nuclear talks have only whetted Iran’s appetite for mischief in the region while hamstringing Obama, a dynamic that will intensify if a deal is reached that grants significant sanctions relief and sets Iran on pathway to going nuclear with international legitimacy,” cautions Makovsky. Indeed, we should be exercising additional economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Iran (e.g. intercepting Iranian arms deliveries throughout the region, checking Iran’s influence in Iraq rather than enabling it), not making excuses and setting up a deal that would fill the mullahs’ coffers with more money to engage in additional inexcusable acts. By the way, doesn’t this sort of undercut the president’s theory that Iran wants to become a “normal” country, accepted into the community of nations?