Updated: December 20, 2013 6:13AM
A lot of nervous eyes will be on Geneva this week as Secretary of State John Kerry tries to negotiate an agreement to contain Iran’s nuclear-weapon ambitions. Those jitters reflect worries by members of Congress and key U.S. allies in the Middle East, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, that the Obama administration might accept a bad deal far short of what’s needed to keep the world’s worst weapons out of the hands of the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism.
Feeding that anxiety was that Kerry came close to reaching agreement last week only to be blocked by France, one of five other nations involved in the negotiations. France’s foreign minister called the proposal a “fools game.” Kerry said Iran found it wanting and rejected it.
The latest reports from Washington are that agreement is close on a temporary arrangement to ease some sanctions on Iran in exchange for freezing Tehran’s nuclear program where it is now. The idea is to use the next six months to achieve a final settlement of this issue.
The worries are many. First that Iran is only playing the West to drag out negotiations while Iran proceeds with its work on the atomic bomb. Recall that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, once boasted about how he manipulated talks nearly a decade ago to allow Iran to complete construction of a uranium enrichment facility. Iran can’t be trusted.
A second fear is that freezing Iran’s program will still leave too many centrifuges spinning to produce enriched uranium and do nothing to dismantle a nuclear plant under construction that could manufacture weapons-grade plutonium.
Another worry is that even a temporary relaxing of economic penalties on Iran could inadvertently spark an irreversible erosion of the fragile regime of sanctions so painstakingly organized over the years. Congress is properly considering new sanctions to keep pressing Iran.
Yet another anxiety is that President Barack Obama is too eager for a deal, which would be a sensational development that could take the headlines away from the debacle that has engulfed his signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
Plus, an agreement would take the military option off the table, not that many people believe Obama would ever use it given how quickly he found a way to get out from under his pledge to punish Syria for crossing his red line against using chemical weapons in that country’s civil war.
Moreover, the Syria episode helps fuel a perception that Obama’s foreign policy is one of weakness. Further ammunition for that view came in a weekend report that Kerry’s State Department wants to let Russia build in the United States half a dozen towers for its global positioning system. The United States has no such GPS tower in Russia, and the CIA and Pentagon fear Russian structures on U.S. soil could be used for spying and other cyber mischief.
According to the New York Times, State thinks letting Russia build the towers would help mend relations with President Vladimir Putin. That’s right — Putin insults America by giving asylum to Edward Snowden, the leaker of U.S. secrets, and State wants to offer Moscow a concession.
It’s no wonder a lot of the eyes on Geneva this week are nervous eyes.