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KAHLILI: Obama’s tone-deaf note to Iran

The mullahs play for time

- - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

President Obama is once again seeking rapprochement with the radicals who rule Iran with an iron fist, proving he is not learning from his mistakes. Another private letter to the regime's leaders urging better relations has already fallen on deaf ears, just as earlier attempts have.

The Iranian media confirmed last week that a letter from the White House similar to previous communications offered recognition of the Islamic regime's legitimacy and requested better cooperation over Iran's nuclear program.

An unnamed source told the Islamic regime's media outlet Irannuc.ir that in the latest letter, Mr. Obama emphasized that he has heard the message from the Iranian people in the June presidential elections that Hasan Rouhani won. This acknowledgment is a total betrayal to the principles of democracy. Elections in Iran are controlled by the state and the Guardian Council, a body of 12 members, six of them clerics, which decides who can run for public office. Those not trusted by the system are barred from running, and many voicing their dissatisfaction with the regime are labeled as "Mohareb" (an enemy of God) and summarily executed.

In the communique, Mr. Obama also expressed his readiness to reduce sanctions over Iran's illicit nuclear program in the face of a serious diplomatic push by Tehran. That point is unfortunate, since Iran has played the diplomatic game perfectly in stalling for time while trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The letter said that positive statements by Iranian officials are important but not enough. In order to show change, Iran must take practical steps to restore international confidence. That's not going to happen unless "practical steps" mean Iran keeps its nuclear program on some level.

The president also stressed U.S. readiness for direct talks with Iran. Direct talks, indirect talks, third-party talks — all have resulted in the same thing: more stalling.

Mr. Obama has previously written directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging cooperation and stating his distaste with the sanctions that he said Congress was pressuring him to enforce.

Mr. Obama acknowledged in an ABC interview Sunday that he has been exchanging letters with the Iranian president, Mr. Rouhani.

According to Iran's Mashregh News, the Iranian response to Mr. Obama's latest letter has already been sent to Washington. Javad Zarif, the Rouhani administration's newly appointed foreign minister who prepared the response, told the Obama administration that before any improvement in relations is warranted, "the U.S. first needs to change its policies and behavior toward Iran," Mashregh reported.

Regime leaders, who have successfully followed a strategy of diminishing the U.S. presence in the region and engaging in meaningless nuclear talks, have continuously believed that America and the West will avoid any military action against Iran. The regime's opponents, they say, will have no choice but to finally accept the Iranian nuclear program and slowly remove sanctions.

Mohammad Mohammadi, an Iranian international affairs and nuclear program expert, wrote last year: "Iran is in a position now that it does not necessarily need to compromise with the U.S. Looking back at the past decade, all the red lines by America and the West over Iran's nuclear issue have now been transformed into acceptance. America has always adopted radical actions at first that have changed to symbolic measures later. Iran has always known that America and the West needed a way to solve the nuclear issue with some honor, and today it is quite visible that with the defeat of America's policies toward Iran, the talk about a need to solve the Iranian nuclear issue diplomatically is a way to obtain that honor."

This analysis is, unfortunately, quite accurate. When Mr. Obama took office in 2009, the regime had barely enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb. Today, it has enough for six with more than 10,000 centrifuges spinning nonstop. Previously, the radicals ruling Iran had not dared to enrich further than the 3.5 percent level, fearing a U.S. backlash, but now they are not only openly enriching to the 20 percent level, which nearly completes the work needed for nuclear weaponization. They are also on course both to attain intercontinental ballistic missiles, bringing the United States within range, and to complete its heavy-water plant, which would give the regime a second path to nuclear weapons by acquiring weapons-grade plutonium.

I have said for a long time that neither negotiations nor sanctions will deter the Islamic regime with its policies in the region and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and today more than ever it is clear that the Obama administration is resigned to a nuclear-armed Iran. However, the implications of such a scenario will surely hurt America's security and the global economy for decades to come. Israel will suffer much more uncertainty and vicious attacks by Iran's proxies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation from Mr. Rouhani to travel to Tehran to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue. Emboldened by outmaneuvering Mr. Obama on the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, Mr. Putin feels that now he can save Tehran by convincing the international community to accept Iran's right to "peaceful nuclear energy."

The Obama administration must understand that defeat is not an option and that a nuclear-armed Islamic regime in Iran will at least destabilize the world and that the proliferation of arms will become a nightmare. Every other regime in the region will pursue the same weapons, and world peace will not be sustainable.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and author of "A Time to Betray" (Simon & Schuster, 2010).