President Obama and John Kerry finally have enabled Israel and key Arab states to reach accord. Both sides agree that current U.S. efforts to negotiate a deal with Iran over it nuclear program are dismaying. The Washington Post reports:
The Obama administration on Wednesday acknowledged a widening gulf with key Middle Eastern allies over nuclear talks with Iran, as Israeli and Persian Gulf Arab leaders pressed for drastic cuts to Iran’s atomic infrastructure that Tehran has insisted it will never accept.
The differences came into stark relief as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to lecture Secretary of State John F. Kerry at a joint news conference, warning against a “bad deal” that would allow Iran to retain any capability to make enriched uranium. . . .
Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies have joined Israelis in expressing growing dismay over U.S. suggestions that Iran could be allowed to retain a limited capability to enrich uranium as part of a comprehensive agreement ending the decade-old nuclear dispute.
The underlying reason for the Arab-Israeli consensus against the Obama-Kerry approach is straightforward — American interests do not align with the interests of Israel and the Arabs. The overriding interest of Israel and the Gulf Arabs (a life-and-death interest in Israel’s case) is preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. The overriding interest of Obama and Kerry is “conflict resolution” — i.e., producing an agreement.
To be sure, Obama and Kerry would prefer that Iran not obtain nuclear weapons, just as Jimmy Carter preferred that North Korea not obtain them. But Iranian nukes would not pose a direct threat to the U.S., as they would to Israel and others in the Middle East.
Accordingly, while Israel and the Gulf Arabs need a failproof deal — one that effectively guarantees a non-nuclear Iran — the U.S. needs only a deal that it can portray as preventing Iran from getting nukes.
Iran has an overriding interest in being able to get nukes, which means that the deal Israel and the Arabs want isn’t available. Thus, the Obama-Kerry can satisfy their craving for a deal only by negotiating one that leaves Iran able to develop nukes.
The deal Obama-Kerry are pushing would do so. It would leave Iran free to enrich uranium, supposedly for non-nuclear purposes only. It would not require, as a condition for lifting sanctions, the complete dismantling of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
Iran, therefore, would still be able to produce a bomb using the enriched uranium that purportedly would be used only for non-nuclear purposes.
The administration can’t this. Instead, its argument is that restrictions contained in an agreement would force Iran to operate clandestinely if it wanted a bomb. This, in turn, would stretch out the time needed to produce one(assuming, I take it, that Iran didn’t just renounce the deal and its restrictions).
Current estimates are that Iran could build a bomb in less than six weeks using equipment and know-how it already possesses. Independent nuclear experts say that, operating in secret to circumvent restrictions in an agreement, would extend this period to three to six months (or conceivably more).
Thus, Obama and Kerry apparently are willing to lift crippling economic sanctions in exchange for increasing the amount of time it would take Iran to develop nuclear weapons from a month-and-half to as little as three months. Even Neville Chamberlain might be reluctant to bite on that one.
Regime change in Iran provides the long-term solution to the threat Iran poses to Israel and Arab states. It is also the way out for the oppressed people of Iran. Sanctions may well help produce regime change, which of course is why Iran is now desperate for a deal that will see them lifted.
Given this reality, it would be all the more unconscionable to lift sanctions in exchange for delaying Iran’s ability to produce nukes by a few months.