Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad listens during a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development on June 21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. | Victor R. Caivano~AP
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:28AM
In a development about as shocking as a Cubs losing streak, the third round of international talks about curbing Iran’s nuclear program failed. The diplomatic impasse makes an unstable Middle East even more volatile.
We have now learned of a new “inalienable” right: that of enrichment. In its Moscow meeting and in Baghdad with the P5+1 nations (U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain and France — the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — plus Germany), Tehran rebuffed diplomatic overtures, insisting on an “inalienable” right to enrichment — allegedly for peaceful uses — and demanded a rollback of economic sanctions. The talks concluded with no plans for high-level follow-up.
One can accuse the Iranian regime of many things, but not inconsistency. After the meeting, they charged their interlocutors with “enmity” and “bullying.” However, any serious observer of the Iranian negotiating style will understand that Tehran will continue to cynically drag out negotiations to gain more time to achieve nuclear-weapons capability. If any further proof is needed of Iran’s bad faith, Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has reported that Iran is cleaning up its military base in Parchin, presumably to destroy evidence of nuclear tests. Iran has refused to let IAEA inspectors visit the site.
The Iranian behavior is not surprising. What continues to shock are the Western commentators — such as Kenneth Waltz in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs — who argue that an Iranian bomb would not be such a bad thing. Such observers should spend more time talking to Iran’s Arab neighbors or persecuted minorities such as the Ba’hai to get a better understanding of what this regime is capable of doing. Diplomacy remains the preferred solution, but the fiasco in Moscow underlines the importance of three other avenues for averting the Iranian nuclear threat.
First, President Barack Obama’s oft-repeated mantra that all options are on the table must maintain its credibility. This means continuation and intensification of stealth warfare on Iran’s nuclear program and the computer systems that sustain it. It also means making clear to the Tehran regime that the U.S. will attack its nuclear sites should that become necessary.
Second, sanctions against Iran must be ramped up. Reports from inside the country confirm that sanctions previously imposed by the U.S., EU and U.N. have seriously hurt an Iranian economy already reeling from widespread corruption and mismanagement. While the sanctions have not yet persuaded the regime to moderate its nuclear ambitions, two more initiatives will send a more powerful message. This past Thursday, banks anywhere in the world that handle oil-related transactions with the Iranian central bank will run the risk of being cut off from the U.S. banking system. And on July 1 the EU will end all oil imports from Iran, and European insurers will no longer provide coverage for ships carrying Iranian oil.
Third, the Tehran regime deserves to be treated as a pariah state, not only because of its nuclear aspirations but also for its abysmal human-rights record. This entails cutting off diplomatic relations — which many nations have already done — and refusing to appear together with Iranian officials.
A model for how to treat Iran came just days after the end of the Moscow talks at the so-called Rio+20, a U.N. conference held in Brazil, where 193 countries discussed issues related to sustainable development. Some 2,000 Brazilians — Jews, Christians, Baha’is, gays, human-rights activists — marched through the streets of Rio de Janeiro protesting the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the conference.
And to their everlasting credit, representatives of the U.S., Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, EU nations, and, of course, Israel, walked out of the chamber when Ahmadinejad rose to address the U.N. gathering. This ritual will be repeated when he returns to New York City to address the U.N. General Assembly in September.
For now, as the centrifuges in Iran keep spinning, maximum international pressure will be essential to convince Tehran to desist from its nuclear quest.
Dan Elbaum is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Chicago Regional Office.