Obama enters new Iranian talks with one hand gladly tied behind his back

The latest round of negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program began yesterday. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stated what has always been clear: “Dismantling [the] nuclear program is not on the agenda.”

What, then, is? As the Washington Post reports, the West seeks only “to prevent Iran from quickly converting its nuclear program to weapons production or from hiding a parallel program.” (emphasis added) This probably means “a demand that advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium be destroyed or mothballed, and that Iran make changes to a nuclear facility under construction so it cannot produce plutonium.”

Will Iran agree to this limited package? Not likely. As the Washington Post puts it, “Iran has signaled that it would oppose any such curbs.” And a senior U.S. official acknowledged that “we have a very long way to go.”

In theory, the parties have less than six months to get there. But it’s clear that the July 20 deadline agreed to by the parties is meaningless (it always was; that’s why the parties agreed it could be extended). The New York Times reports that, in fact, the negotiations are expected to last for “up to a year.”

Iran has every incentive to drag the negotiations out for as long as possible. It has received substantial relief from crushing economic sanctions, and with every passing month its economy improves while the prospect of re-imposing the prior sanctions regime diminishes. Moreover, I expect Iran to demand, and probably receive, additional relief as a condition of continuing talks beyond the July 20 deadline.

It is also in President Obama’s interests to keep talking for as long as possible. First, an end to the talks would demonstrate that they were a failure. Second, as long as talks continue, Obama has a means of deflecting calls for serious action against Iran and can pretty much ensure that Israel will not take military action.

The one cloud on the horizon for Obama and the mullahs is a Senate bill that calls for new sanctions if no deal is reached by the July 20 deadline. If Obama had any desire to curb Iran’s nuclear program, he would permit such legislation to pass, since doing so would provide him negotiating leverage that he sorely could use.

But Obama’s desires lie elsewhere. His goals are to remove the pressure on his administration to do something meaningful in response to Iran’s emerging nuclear threat, to make sure Israel does nothing meaningful, and to make life easier for the Iranian regime, to which he hopes to sidle up.

Thus, he will combat the Senate legislation so he can continue to negotiate with one hand tied behind his back.