If you’re a nuclear criminal, the Obama administration wants to talk to you.
That’s the message delivered on Friday to the world’s two most dangerous renegade states, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. First, the State Department, in what CNN termed “a dramatic policy shift,” announced the United States was willing to engage in bilateral discussions with North Korea. Since the institution of three-party talks in April 2003, Washington has insisted on multilateral discussions with Pyongyang. In April, the North said it would no longer participate in the so-called six-party talks, the successor to the three-party ones.
At the same time, the State Department said it would participate in a broad dialogue with Iran, accepting Tehran’s proposal submitted on Wednesday to Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to restart talks. But the Iranians stated they would not discuss their nuclear program, the international community’s primary concern. Instead, they offered to engage in what a Western diplomat called “a holistic conversation” about global affairs in general. “If Iran is willing to enter into serious negotiations, then they will find a willing participant in the United States and other countries,” said State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley on Friday.
This was too much, even for the New York Times. While endorsing the general concept of dialogue with the mullahs, the paper noted “there is no sign that Iran is serious about doing much more than buying more time.” Since the International Atomic Energy Agency announced in August 2003 that it had found traces of highly enriched uranium at a facility in Natanz, the “atomic ayatollahs” have been using talks — and the prospects of talks — to give their technicians time to advance bomb-building capabilities. This decade, Iran’s negotiators have, to representatives of the international community, lied, stalled, and told the truth only when they had no alternative.
And as a result of their successful tactics, the mullahs can build an atomic device in less than a year. How do we know this? A week ago, Glyn Davies, Washington’s chief IAEA representative, stated Iran now has — or is close to having — enough lowly enriched uranium for one nuke. Because the mullahs possess the technology to enrich uranium, they can spin their centrifuges and produce the bomb-grade material needed for the core of a weapon. The actual device is so easy to assemble that a nation does not even need to test it. The initial test of America’s uranium bomb, the first in history, was over Hiroshima. Therefore, once Iran produces highly enriched uranium, we have to assume it has become a nuclear weapons state.
By now it is clear that further conversation with the mullahs will not change their minds. The only conclusion that fits known facts is that they have been conducting a covert nuclear weapons program for about two decades, and they are not about to stop just because President Obama is being nice to them. So the only point of talking with the Iranian leadership is to demonstrate good faith and eliminate the opposition of other nations to taking tougher measures when negotiations with Tehran inevitably fail. Last week, Moscow said it was in favor of dialogue with, and against sanctions on, Tehran. Presumably the Obama administration thinks, by agreeing to talk with Tehran now, it can win Russia’s cooperation later.
That, however, is an optimistic assessment of the Kremlin. Russian leaders, unfortunately, are not opposed to the Iranian nuclear program. They apparently believe the real villains in the world are American hegemonists, and they are willing to support Iranian theocrats, Venezuelan thugs, or Central Asian tyrants (i.e., anyone opposing Washington at the moment).
Washington is, unfortunately, seeing the world the way it wants it to be. Ever since Ronald Reagan left office, American policymakers have believed that great powers could cooperate and settle the affairs of the world. Yet the failure of Russia and China to effectively oppose the nuclear ambitions of the Iranians demonstrates that this hopeful theory does not work in practice. If the Russians and the Chinese won’t withdraw their support for the mullahs, who have vowed to incinerate Israel and destroy the United States, how do we expect them to help on other matters where the lines are not so clear?
And that brings us back to North Korea. Moscow and Beijing are participants in the six-party talks — indeed, the Chinese sponsor these negotiations, which began in August 2003. For six years, China, the maestro of the discussions, has promoted dialogue but blocked solutions, thereby giving Pyongyang the time to develop and test its nuclear devices. Washington’s Friday offer to talk bilaterally would make sense if the Obama administration wanted to cut out the unhelpful Chinese and Russians, but that is not its strategy. The State Department, while extending the offer of one-to-one dialogue, said the purpose of the proposed bilateral discussions is to encourage the North Koreans to return to the six-party deliberations — and America’s diplomats meant it.
This spring, the Obama administration, in a moment of clarity, said it wanted to “break the cycle” of long negotiations and broken agreements with Pyongyang. But its resolve did not last long. The White House now hopes to talk to Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state and start the long process of negotiations over again. We have seen how North Koreans always get the better of Americans at talks — the Iranians learned their stalling tactics from Chairman Kim — and we are about to witness a new chapter of failure at the bargaining table.