When the doors opened after Saturday's meeting of the permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council plus Germany and Iran, the Iranian delegation seemed to hold the upper hand. Lead negotiator Saeed Jalili said the talks were productive but maintained, "Enrichment of uranium is one of these rights that every individual member state [of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] should benefit from and enjoy for peaceful purposes." Apparently the United States agreed with him; a report in Tehran's state news organ Kayhan announced "an important reversal of America's position." Further talks on "confidence-building measures" are scheduled for the end of May, in Baghdad.
"My initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented after the Istanbul round. The United Nations had been demanding that Iran cease uranium enrichment and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unfettered access. Now that line appears to be softening, with no concessions on the part of Tehran. The Islamic Republic has always maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, in particular supplying nuclear material for medical applications. IAEA inspectors uncovered an Iranian program for developing nuclear warheads, and a dozen nuclear experts from Iran observed North Korea's recent failed missile test. Pyongyang is not exactly on the cutting edge of nuclear medicine.
President Obama bristled at the notion that the United States had softened its line on Iran's nuclear enrichment. "So far at least, we haven't given away anything," he said Sunday, which raises the question of how long "so far" will continue. In response to the argument that the Islamic Republic is simply using negotiations to delay more direct action against the nuclear program, Mr. Obama said that "the clock is ticking, and I've been very clear to Iran and to our negotiating partners that we're not going to have these talks just drag out in a stalling process." The White House benefits from long, drawn-out negotiations as much as the Iranians do, if not more. Tehran can continue to enrich uranium and work toward building an atomic bomb, while Mr. Obama avoids having to deal with a major crisis in the Middle East in an election year. If the parties can agree to some kind of face-saving accommodation for Iran, Mr. Obama could trumpet a supposed diplomatic breakthrough to bolster his meager foreign-policy record.
Unfortunately for the White House, Israel will provide a sanity check if the talks simply prove to be a delaying tactic while Iran completes its nuclear project. An Israeli TV report on the Jewish state's preparation for military action against Iran predicted that "the coming summer will not only be hot but tense." Should Iran be concerned? In June 2009, Mr. Obama warned, "The clock is ticking," saying Iran is developing a nuclear capability "at a fairly rapid clip." But he said that three years ago. Maybe this is one of those speeches he gives over and over again and hopes no one notices.
The Washington Times
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