- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Obama administration has adopted Russia’s “go slow” approach to imposing sanctions on Tehran for its illegal nuclear program. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced their meeting of the minds yesterday, stating that sanctions should only be a last resort when all diplomatic means are exhausted. This posture hands a blank check to Iran.

Mr. Lavrov explained that Russia is “in principle very reserved on sanctions, as they rarely produce results.” Mrs. Clinton added without irony that sanctions on North Korea would remain in place - this after Pyongyang developed and tested nuclear weapons after years of punishing sanctions, intense diplomacy and broken agreements. Pyongyang is the poster child for the utter impotence of sanctions as a means to dissuade rogue states from developing nuclear weapons. It also is an active partner in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

Meanwhile, the Islamic regime is moving ahead briskly with punishing pro-democracy dissidents. The show trials of 140 demonstrators have produced the first three death sentences for dissidents for their roles in street protests following dirty elections in June. Tehran identified the condemned by the initials NA, AP and MZ. MZ was reported to be pro-monarchist Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani. It is a noteworthy sign of weakness that the regime was so circumspect in naming the condemned.

The U.S. government is giving Tehran the green light to continue its human rights offenses. Last week, the State Department yanked funding from the nonpartisan Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, which since 2004 has been systematically documenting human rights violations committed in the Islamic republic. Perhaps Congress could restore the group’s funding. Certainly the only signs of government resolve on Iran are coming from Capitol Hill. Last night, the House of Representatives moved on H.R. 1327, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which seeks to encourage the groundswell movement among states, cities and educational institutions to divest from Iran’s energy sector.

The American people are skeptical that diplomacy or sanctions will stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. An Oct. 6 Pew Research Center poll shows that 63 percent of Americans favor negotiations with Iran, even though 64 percent believe they will be ineffective; 78 percent approve of tougher sanctions, even though 56 percent believe they won’t work.

This is America at its most pragmatic. The public is saying that it’s worth trying anything to stop Iran, but in the end, we probably will have to fight it out. The survey shows that 61 percent agree that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons even if it requires the use of force. Just 24 percent believe we should accept an Iranian bomb if stopping it necessitates military action.

The prospects are slim that President Obama will use force to stop Iran. But the Pew poll is good news for Israel, which at least can count on the support of the American people when it takes the inevitable step. At this point, it’s only a matter of time.