In the Arena

Something’s Up With Iran

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Charles Krauthammer today dignifies Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent lunacy–he predicted a U.S. and Israeli attack on two middle eastern countries–by taking it seriously. Ahmadi’s foreign policy pronouncements are usually ill-informed, hateful nonsense designed for domestic consumption; it’s the Supreme Leader and Revolutionary Guard who control that show. Last September when a group of Time Editors interviewed Ahmadinejad on the morning that the Qom reactor was revealed by President Obama, he shocked us by seeming totally unaware of this development–he hadn’t been given his talking points yet. I’d trust Ahmadinejad, a deft footballer in school, more in his ruminations about the octopus that predicted World Cup results.

But Krauthammer is right that there’s something going on, something very important, with Iran–something that he and his fellow neoconservatives didn’t anticipate. (Indeed, no one did.) The sanctions are working; they’re having a major impact on the Iranian economy. The powerful bazaari community has been shocked not just by the universal support for the sanctions, but also by their comprehensive nature. Iranian ships are sitting at their docks because they international community is refusing to insure them. Banks that have done business with Iran in the past are refusing to do so now because the UN sanctions–that’s right, those “weak” UN sanctions–target them as well. The Iranian economy, a stagflation fiasco before the sanctions, is cracking.

As a result, the Administration has been receiving all sorts of feelers–public and, for the first time, private–from the Iranians about resuming the negotiations on the nuclear program. Recently, the Iranians have promised not to enrich their uranium to the higher 20% level they threatened earlier–and proceed with the uranium exchange plan they negotiated with Turkey and Brazil. That’s not sufficient. Any negotiations must take place within the IAEA matrix, with the UN Security Council’s 5 permanent members, including the U.S., plus Germany. I’d hope that the Obama Administration would insist on a concession–a meaningful sign of good faith from the Iranians–like increased access for IAEA inspectors and the release of documents relating to their nuclear program that the IAEA has asked for, and not received, in the past–before any new round of negotiations begins. Too often in the past, the Iranians have used negotiations as a stall; they have to understand that’s no longer possible. (If necessary, to preserve Iranian national pride after a century of being ordered around and messed with by the colonial powers, this can be done quietly.)

There were those, led by, uh, Charles Krauthammer, who denigrated the Obama Administration’s patient and wise efforts to include Russia and China in the sanctions regime. As it happens, that diplomacy–a real achievement, by the way–seems to be having an impact. Who knows? It might even work.