Negotiating with Iran Without Leverage

by Benjamin Weinthal

The Obama administration has urged Congress to take a sanctions timeout to see if progress can be made in reaching an agreement with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program. U.S. undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman, the lead American negotiator with Iran, said there is a chance to “gain traction” without sanctions.

Since President Obama recoiled from military action against Iran’s vassal – Assad’s Syria – a common refrain in many Israeli and Arabic news reports is that Obama is ill-prepared to confront security threats in the Middle East.

As my FDD colleague, Michael Ledeen, argues, the Iranians “don’t think they have anything to fear from him [Obama], and they expect he will accept a deal favorable to them. . . . They will have been reassured at the recent spectacle of the White House asking Congress not to vote any new sanctions. This demonstrates a lack of understanding, since a vigorous Congress enables our negotiators to tell the Iranians ‘you’d better get serious and shut down the nuclear program, or these crazy people will just pile on.”’

Just when Iran’s oil exports are plummeting, and Iran is highly vulnerable to economic pressure, the U.S and its allies go into retreat mode. According to a new report, Iran’s “crude exports, excluding condensate, are expected to fall nearly 30% from a year earlier to 719,000 bpd in October.”

The lack of new sanctions ahead of the November nuclear talks (and a terribly non-serious military threat) show the U.S. has increasingly little leverage over Iran. The view from Tehran is that the Americans have become soft.

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl captures in his article today, titled “Foreign Policy Based on Fantasy,” the shortcomings of Obama’s Middle East policies. He writes that “Israel and Saudi Arabia worry that Obama will strike a deal with Iran that frees it from sanctions without entirely extirpating its capacity to enrich uranium — leaving it with the potential to produce nuclear weapons.”

Iran is a qualitatively different regime than others under despots in Muslim-majority countries (e.g., the Gulf monarchies) in the Middle East. The 1979 Islamic Revolution was a genuine change in the social order comparable to the Bolshevik Communist revolution in 1917. Iran’s then-supreme leader Khomeini spawned revolutionaries who now seek – with nuclear-weapon capability – to exercise control over American interests and power.

Adam Kredo over at the Washington Free Beacon underscored Iran’s defiance; the ultra-orthodox Shiite regime announced last week via its state-controlled media its plans to build “enough atomic reactors to generate a total of 20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020.”

It appears the U.S. is not gaining traction in the nuclear talks. In short, Iran has secured more time to develop weapons-grade uranium.