Belmont Club

Skywriting your love

Westhawk notices an AP story claiming that Iran financed the”Al Kabir gas graphite reactor that the Israeli air force destroyed in September 2007″.  The story goes, “GENEVA – A top-ranked Iranian defector told the United States that Iran was financing North Korean moves to make Syria into a nuclear weapons power, leading to the Israeli air strike that destroyed a suspected secret reactor, a report said Thursday.” Westhawk writes:

If this account is true, it is a very black mark against Iran’s claims that its nuclear enterprise is solely for peaceful purposes. The IAEA verified the presence of uranium at the destroyed site. And there was no evidence that Syria intended to build steam generators, electrical turbines, or any other such facilities that would be part of an electrical power station….

For the Obama administration, it is slightly awkward that this news came out on the same day that President Obama reached out to the Iranian people, hoping for reconciliation. As I discussed in a post in February, President Obama intends to put the ball into Ayatollah Khamenei’s court, leaving it Iran’s responsibility to either take a positive step, or take the blame for rejecting a peace offering.

The danger for the U.S. is that this course further commits the U.S. to the overall Iranian problem. Should President Obama’s initiative fail for whatever reason, he may find it difficult to back away from a process he has begun, especially if the world is expecting progress from him on the issue. Further Iranian rejection would lead to further U.S. steps, increasingly coercive. This would be a version of an “escalation trap.”

Wide-ranging acceptance that Iran’s nuclear program has a large military component only adds to President Obama’s peril. The consequences of mishandling the diplomacy will only grow.

The alternative to the “escalation trap” is the spiral of groveling. If the leadership in Teheran believe that the Obama administration is incapable of doing anything except offering more carrots then they will continue to behave as if a stick didn’t exist. Without a downside to their actions, the Ayatollahs will logically be motivated to hold out for more. And more. And more. The Times Online notes that Iran has already publicly rejected Obama’s overture. The administration’s response to the rebuff has so far been to offer more overtures.

President Barack Obama intends to press ahead with efforts to open a dialogue with Iran despite an apparent setback yesterday when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious leader, dismissed US overtures as a “slogan” offering no real change.

Obama and his aides had already been considering a direct approach to Khamenei as a possible follow-up to the US president’s unprecedented video address to the Iranian people, released on Friday. …

Although western officials agreed that Obama’s remarks represented an important change of tone from the Bush years, Khamenei appeared in no hurry for dialogue.

“Have you released Iranian assets?” the ayatollah asked. “Have you lifted oppressive sanctions? Have you given up mudslinging and making accusations against the great Iranian nation and its officials? Have you given up your unconditional support for the Zionist regime [Israel]?”

Khamenei nonetheless left the door open for future discussion when he added: “You change, our behaviour will change . . . We will watch, and we will judge (the new US administration).”

Iran has stated its conditions. Lift the sanctions. Make nice. Stop supporting Israel. By publicly offering to speak to Teheran without knowing what that regime’s response would be, President Obama gave it a chance to throw pie in his face, which it did; and it implicitly left the Ayatollah’s with the power to determine when its suitor in the White House would be sufficiently shaved, barbered and bathed to be worthy of speech. The President will have his dialogue in due time. But only after he has paid the price.