Time to End Empty Negotiations with Iran?

by Benjamin Weinthal

The latest round of negotiations to end Iran’s illicit nuclear activities have, not surprisingly, come and gone without an agreement.

“It remains clear that there are significant gaps” between the Iranians and the so-called P5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, top European Union diplomat Lady Catherine Ashton said after Tuesday’s session in Moscow, adding that “the choice is Iran’s.”

Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili promptly insisted that his country will defy the international community, declaring that “enrichment of uranium is the inalienable right of the Iranian people.”

The world has now been chasing a deal with the Iranians for nearly a decade, and their clerical rulers have shown little movement. It would be generous to call the latest conclusion an impasse, as the Obama administration and its allies have largely been negotiating with themselves.

#more#However, Tehran has made a definitive choice to continue on the path to enriching weapons-grade uranium.

President Obama and European leaders continue to hold out hope that Iran will suddenly change course, but apart from some brief interruptions, it’s been on this path since 2003. A BBC headline Wednesday expressed the futility of further negotiations: “Iran Nuclear Stand-off: Travelling Circus of Talks Continues.”

Meanwhile, even Julian Borger’s Global Security Blog over at the Guardian described the Moscow process as “the dawn of the zombie talks,” conceding that “there is no discernible life left in this diplomatic process but it has to be kept going in the hope of a miracle and because the alternative is so grim.”

The U.S. and its allies nonetheless have options short of military strikes. They can increase economic pressure on Iran’s fragile regime.

First, the West should clamp down on companies that insure ships transporting Iranian crude oil. On July 1, the EU sanctions preventing insurance companies from covering Iranian crude oil deliveries go into effect — a step it should expand to cover other countries, including Japan.

The EU should move toward a full embargo against Iran, expanding sanctions to end its bilateral trade with Iran, which now amounts to over €25 billion per year.

Iranians understand who is to blame for their woeful economic outlook. Writing from Iran, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof quoted an unemployed salesman remarking, “We blame our regime, not Western countries.”

On this side of the Atlantic, William Kristol and Jamie Fly call on President Obama “to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program.” In its absence, Kristol and Fly argue that Congress could pass an authorization of its own accord. After all, Congress has compelled Obama to act more assertively on sanctions.

Historically, Iran has suffered setbacks when its leaders underestimate others’ willingness to put their foot down. Lady Ashton got it wrong. The choice is Obama’s.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The Corner

The one and only.