In the Arena


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It seems an appropriate time to resurrect The New Republic’s clever name for the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal. It seems the Iranians are playing hardball on the nuclear negotiations.And David Ignatius poses the question of what the Obama administration should do about it, offering three options: engage, contain or attack. It seems to me that the answer is a no-brainer: Engage if you can, while making plans to sanction, contain and deter.

The response of the  P5+1 (the UN Security Council’s permanent members plus Germany) to the Iranian diss becomes crucial. And U.S. diplomacy now faces a real challenge: how to get the Russians and Chinese to agree to a more aggressive sanctions regime, perhaps including the barring of gasoline sales to Iran. The answer is: carrots.

It is now time to offer the Russians what they want–the abandonment of the foolish and probably useless anti-missile system based in Eastern Europe (although, obviously, U.S. anti-missile defense research should be continued) and  offer quiet assurances, if they haven’t already been offered, that the U.S. will not press for NATO membership for Georgia or the Ukraine. The quid pro quo should be a guarantee that the Russians will agree to a specific set of sanctions.

As for the Chinese, that’s more difficult. The pillar of their foriegn policy is business: they seek to do business, especially when it comes to oil, wherever they can, regardless of the nature of the government involved. But the Chinese have an Islamic radicalism problem in their western provinces–remember the Uighurs? And we’ve been doing some of China’s dirty work, fighting the Islamic radicals–Al Qaeda, for example–who train and supply the Chinese rebels. Perhaps some accomodation–intelligence sharing, if it is not already being done–can be reached to bring the Chinese on board with regard to Iran.

In any case, Obama’s open hand has been met with a closed fist, for the moment. The Iranian regime is cracking down on dissidents, reverting to Soviet-style show trials–several of my friends and sources, Iranian patriots all, remain in prison–and seems to be in the process of mounting a Revolutionary Guards Corps coup. Iran’s need to meet the IAEA’s requirements for openness in the nuclear process seems to me a threshold issue, given the recent events. (I didn’t always believe that was the case, but the Iranian regime’s recent behavior has changed the game.)

It is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the Iranians have not crossed the line and begun to weaponize. But if that’s the case, what are they hiding–why are they being so recalcitrant? It’s time for Obama to stand strong, and bring the Russians and Chinese along.