President Obama’s response to Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s announcement that he plans to go full steam ahead on the nuclear front is revealing. It does not matter how many times Iran says no to the offers presented. It does not matter how many Iranian citizens perish in the effort to change the regime’s cataclysmic direction. From America comes empty sloganeering about the president’s patience running out.
The administration’s deadlines are constantly shifting. G-8 meetings in early September. The General Assembly opening session in mid-September. October 1 (when heads of state assembled for the U.N. had all left town). Two weeks later in mid-October. The end of the year.
The administration’s demands are as vague as possible. “Moving in the right direction.” “Take steps to live up to obligations.” “Begin a serious discussion.” “Some kind of response.”
The administration’s threatened consequences are kept deliberately nondescript. As of this week the phrase of choice was: “start shifting our focus to the track of pressure.”
Iran’s refusal to comply with its nuclear-nonproliferation obligations has now been documented for 2,346 days — since June 2003, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally released a report admitting the obvious.
President Obama is unwilling to set firm deadlines, make steadfast demands, or articulate clear consequences for Iranian non-compliance with international law — all of which evidence a decision of this administration to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, a decision that ought to terrify freedom-loving souls everywhere.
Here’s the Obama timeline thus far (click on the links to go to the sources of the quotes):
Q: Mr. President, you spoke at length . . . about Iran’s nuclear program. Your program of engagement, policy of engagement, how long is that going to last? Is there a deadline?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I don’t want to set an artificial deadline. . . . We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction. . . . We’ll probably be able to gauge and do a reassessment by the end of the year.
DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DENIS MCDONOUGH: The G8 meeting on the margin of the United Nations General Assembly the opening week of September will be an occasion to take stock of the situation. . . . Iran needs to fulfill its international responsibilities without further delay. . . . The U.N. General Assembly in September [is] an opportunity to take stock.
Q: What else can we expect from the U.S. on Iran?
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Our president came to office with a very clear preference for talking with people. . . . So I think there is still a lot of opportunity here, but we are not going to keep the window open forever.
CLINTON: We don’t have an unlimited window of opportunity here. The nuclear clock is ticking, and we know that we’ve got to press Iran to begin a serious discussion about its intentions concerning nuclear power.
DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: The president is fully aware that the Iranians may simply try to run out the clock. . . . I think the president is hoping for some kind of response by this fall, at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly session.
Q: Iran’s decision to hold talks with the P-5+1 on October 1st — doesn’t that avoid the U.N. General Assembly?
STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN IAN KELLY: The Iranians . . . can go down one path which leads . . . to integration with the international community, or they can continue down another path which leads to isolation. . . . We plan to address this issue of their not living up to their obligations head on. We — this is going to be front and center in our talks with them on October 1. . . . Our patience is not infinite. We’re not willing to let this go on forever.
OBAMA: Iran . . . must grant unfettered access to IAEA inspectors within two weeks. . . . We’re not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then the United States will not continue to negotiate indefinitely, and we are prepared to move towards increased pressure. . . . Our patience is not unlimited.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: We are in what we hope is an intensive diplomatic phase now. It will not be open-ended.
GIBBS: We expect the Iranians to live up to the promises that they’ve made now as they begin to make some decisions about living up to the rest of their international obligations. As the president said pretty clearly yesterday, if this ever — if this gets to a point where we feel like the Iranians are simply doing this to talk for talk’s sake, then we’ll move to the next step.
KELLY: I don’t think that there’s a hard-and-fast deadline. I think that we made it quite clear this was a matter of some urgency. . . . What we have said all along is that this is not an open-ended process, we are not in this just to talk for talk’s sake. . . . We have said this is not an open-ended process and we expect prompt, concrete steps to be taken over the next couple of weeks.
CLINTON: The president has said that we want to see action from Iran by the end of this year, and I think that is a pretty good benchmark.
GIBBS: Time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.
KELLY: Iran has to live up to its international obligations, that it has to — it has a choice . . . further integration with the international community . . . [or] further isolation. . . . The president has said that our patience is not unlimited. He’s indicated that we’re willing to give a preponderance of attention to the engagement track until the end of the year, and if we don’t get a positive response, we’re going to start shifting our focus over to the other track, the track of pressure.
– Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and executive director of Human Rights Voices.