Obama’s agreement to drop the demand to suspend enrichment is very bad policy for several reasons:
(1) Bush-administration detractors lambasted the administration both for unilateralism and for failing to utilize diplomacy. The fact of the matter, however, is that the Bush administration — while schizophrenic – went to the United Nations and won unilateral and near-unilateral sanctions demanding Iran suspend nuclear enrichment. This came after the IAEA had found Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement. By agreeing to negotiate without enrichment suspension, the Obama administration is casting aside unilaterally these U.N. Security Council resolutions. Rather than facilitate diplomacy, such a move hampers it in the long-term because it signals to Tehran that it need not take U.N. Security Council Resolutions seriously. We can never use threat of U.N. sanctions again to coerce Iran.
(2) Obama appears to be following the model of North Korea diplomacy. Under Bush, many of the proponents of the North Korea tract argued that their efforts was successful. They dismissed problems as the fault of Bush who did not treat the North Koreans sensitively enough. As I argued in my piece yesterday, there is an unfortunate tendency to place blame for the failure of diplomacy on one’s predecessor rather than one’s adversary. Partly because unsuccessful diplomats want to whitewash their legacy. It is dangerous to believe them, and naïve to accept their revisionism hook, line, and sinker. North Korea has played us consistently, as Chuck Downs shows in Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy. (A retired general who commanded U.S. forces in Korea told me last month that it is the one book he urges anyone heading not only to Korea but anywhere in Asia to read). Iran also looks at North Korea — gobbling up incentives, but never taking their eyes off the prize.
(3) Those in Europe or the Obama administration who advocate suspension say waving ‘preconditions’ shows our flexibility and incentives can bring Iran to the table. But, this process literally has been going on since Klaus Kinkel’s critical dialogue in 1992. During this time, Iran has not made a single concession. The European have made several. So too has Washington. Iran looks at the long-term; we can’t simply restart the clock every time a new administration takes office in Washington, Berlin, Paris, or London.
Obama’s aides are smart. They know the consequence of their actions. It’s hard not to conclude that they have made a policy decision to allow the Islamic Republic of Iran to become a nuclear weapons-capable state.