Thursday’s meeting in Geneva between the great powers and Iran delivered a big win for Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could go to bed that night once again truly believing “America can do nothing” — a phrase his mentor, Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, loved to repeat.
The buildup on our side of these talks was tremendous. Expectations ran high that Iran’s representative would simply grandstand and use the talks to sermonize the United States, that we would walk out, and “crippling sanctions” would begin.
But the Iranians played us masterfully. Instead of repeating Mr. Ahmadinejad’s mantra that the nuclear issue was “off the table” and Iran would be happy to discuss the terms of our surrender, his representative, Saeed Jalali, bought precious time for Iran to continue its clandestine nuclear activities.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, set the standard for what the talks should have produced in remarks to a conference on Capitol Hill at the very moment our negotiating team was getting snookered by the Iranians.
“If our engagement with Iran is to have credibility, the parties need to emerge from the meeting in Geneva today with a set of clear and credible benchmarks for mutual steps forward and a timetable for meeting them,” Mr. Lieberman said. “These benchmarks must include verifiable suspension of all enrichment activities, as repeatedly demanded by the U.N. Security Council, and full cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to resolve all outstanding questions about Iran’s nuclear-related activities.”
None of that came out of Thursday’s meeting with the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany (P5+1). Instead, the Iranians changed the subject.
Iran remains in utter defiance of multiple Security Council resolutions that demand total suspension of uranium-enrichment activities.
Rather than discuss that issue — the core issue — the P5+1 allowed Mr. Jalali to sidetrack the discussions to make complex arrangements so Iran could gain access to enriched uranium. That’s right. Rather than talk about stopping Iran’s enrichment activities, the meeting enhanced Iran’s access to enriched uranium. No amount of White House spin can call that a “win” for the United States.
The last-minute “deal” with Iran about sending its declared supplies of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for further enrichment is a cute negotiating ploy that Mr. Ahmadinejad floated a few days ahead of the meeting. It is a side issue of no relevance to the core problem of Iran’s continued defiance of the Security Council and its refusal to come clean on its nuclear weapons research, which very well could include additional, undeclared supplies of LEU.
Mr. Ahmadinejad only needed one thing from the Geneva talks: to keep us talking. The longer he can delay hard deadlines and hard demands from the world powers, the more time he has to complete his nuclear designs and put in place new sources of refined petroleum should the U.S. Congress move forward legislation — stalled at White House request — to impose a ban on gasoline sales to Iran.
Mr. Obama was right to respond cautiously to the news from Geneva, saying that “talk is no substitute for action.” Yet, on the action side of the talks, Iran won hands-down.
Iran has been demanding that its case be handed back to the IAEA, not the Security Council. Why? Because it knows it can slow-roll the Vienna-based inspectors, as it has been doing for the past 17 years. (That’s right: since 1992, when the IAEA under blind Hans Blix first attempted to conduct something akin to a surprise inspection and failed miserably even to find the sites it wanted to inspect). The great powers granted Iran’s request and announced that IAEA inspectors would leave in two weeks for Iran to ask permission to visit the formerly secret uranium enrichment facility in Qom.
That inspection could stretch out a long time. Meanwhile, we have no confidence that Iran has not built additional underground enrichment plants or a warhead-design facility. We don’t even know for certain that Iran has not actually tested a low-yield nuclear device, as Assistant Secretary of State for Verification Paula A. DeSutter revealed in 2007 in written responses to questions from Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican. By digging a test cavity into the massive salt domes of its eastern desert and using venting and decoupling techniques, Iran could reduce the seismic signature of a nuclear test by 70 percent to 100 percent and thus escape detection, Ms. DeSutter said.
Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth M. Pollack, a self-styled “cheerleader” of Mr. Obama’s engagement policy, now says engagement is a “pipe dream” and that the administration must consider new policies for the long-term “containment” of Iran.
In clear terms, that means learning to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. Not only is this a dangerous admission of U.S. failure and U.S. weakness, but it also essentially shifts the entire burden of preventing a nuclear Iran onto Israel.
As Winston Churchill said after Neville Chamberlain returned from negotiating with Adolf Hitler in Munich, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”