- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

EDITORIAL

To no one’s surprise, international talks about Iran’s nuclear program ended in failure again on July 19 despite the Bush administration’s decision to reverse course and send the No. 3 official in the State Department, Undersecretary of State William Burns, to Geneva to negotiate. American, European and even Iranian negotiators all praised the talks. Western diplomats pointed to what the New York Times referred to as “a rare show of unity” among the United States and its five negotiating partners - Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - in urging Iran to “compromise.” The chief Iranian negotiator called the negotiating process a “very beautiful endeavor” and said he hoped it would result in a solution that would be “beautiful to behold.”

But in the end, the talks yielded no more success than any of the prior U.S. negotiating efforts with Iran dating back to the Carter administration. The international community was seeking to persuade Tehran to accept an offer made last year. In essence, the proposed deal would have worked this way: Iran would not add to its nuclear program (this assumes in essence that Iran lacks a covert program), while Washington and the other five powers would not seek new international sanctions for six weeks. When that failed, the same offer was repackaged and offered to Iran again last month as part of a new proposal to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. Tehran failed to respond.

So, on July 19, Washington and its allies repeatedly pressed Iran yet again to accept it. On each occasion, the offer was met with evasions. “We expected to hear an answer from the Iranians, but as has been the case so many times with the Iranians, what came through was not serious,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on July 21. So, Iran was given an additional two weeks to respond to the proposal before the offer is withdrawn. It does not take much imagination to see what will happen: Iran will either reject the proposal outright or will be granted more time to consider it, and the Security Council will impose new, ineffectual sanctions. And you can bet the next offer - whether it is made two weeks from now or a few months from now – will be even more generous to Tehran.

The nuclear talks are going nowhere, and that’s a good thing for the Iranian regime, because time is on its side. Today, without nuclear weapons, Iran has been extraordinarily successful at projecting power throughout the Middle East. Although the U.S. troop surge has for now blunted Iran’s efforts to subvert Iraq, Tehran is ascendant almost everywhere else in the region. In Afghanistan, its allies in al Qaeda and the Taliban have stepped up their efforts to overthrow that nascent democracy. In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah fought Israel, the Middle East’s regional superpower, to a draw in their 2006 war. In May, Hezbollah staged a coup, leaving it the dominant political power in Lebanon. Last week, the terrorist organization achieved a huge political triumph when Israel freed Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar in a prisoner exchange. Iran and Syria have replenished the Hezbollah weaponry that Israel destroyed in the 2006 war, and Hezbollah has rebuilt its elaborate system of military fortifications throughout Southern Lebanon. The Israeli military believes Hezbollah has deployed upgraded anti-aircraft missiles that could enable it to shoot down Israeli warplanes over Lebanon.

Last summer, Iran’s ally Hamas staged a coup that made it the absolute ruler of Gaza - which it has turned into a launching pad for rocket attacks in Israel. In January, Hamas demonstrated its ability to undermine stability in Egypt by destroying part of the border fence with Gaza and permitting hundreds of thousands of people to pour across the border into the Sinai Peninsula. And Iran has dispatched Hezbollah trainers to Gaza to assist Hamas.

All of this is occurring at a time when Iran lacks nuclear weapons. But, here again, time is on the mullahs’ side. Iran is betting that it can successfully continue to stall the nuclear talks until it eventually gets nuclear weapons - and with them the ability to deter its mortal enemies: The United States and Israel.

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