The back and forth regarding whether or not we should be holding direct talks with Iran has heated up over the past few days now that Senator Obama has decided to take on both President Bush AND Senator McCain. There are points regarding this Issue that Obama needs to address, like for example, while the US hasn’t been negotiating directly with Iran, many European nations have and still Iran hasn’t budged, or the fact that Iran has told UN head Ki-moon has said that they will not hold discussions on its nuke program until there is a Palestinian State. Senator how do you address these?:
It’s Time Now for a Serious Public Debate on Our Iran Policy
By Victor Comras
I wrote here last month that the time has come for further clarification from the presidential candidates concerning their plans for dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have heard numerous sound-bites and even read a few short paragraphs issued by their campaigns on the issue, but each has shied away from providing any real substance. They all indicate that America must not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons capability. But none has yet indicated how they actually intend to convince Iran to change course. President Bush’s May 15th remarks before the Knesset focused some attention on an important aspect of what should, by now, be an open public debate on Iran policy – whether to engage Iran in direct dialogue. The polemic that followed between the candidates did little to throw any new light on this issue, or on other potential options and possible consequences. But, it did signal that Iran could well become the Quemoy-Matsu issue in upcoming presidential campaign debates. Barak Obama has indicated that, as President, he would engage Iran in direct dialogue, without preconditions, including talks at the highest levels. Hillary Clinton, while also favoring dialogue, has indicated that she would limit contacts with Iran to the sub-cabinet level, at least until significant progress was evident. McCain said he would distain any dialogue with Iran so long as Iran continues its proliferation and terrorist-supporting activities. Any dialogue with Iran, he said, would be restricted to what was necessary to quell violence in Iraq. Both Obama and Clinton have indicated that they would employ political and economic incentives, as well as the threat and application of increasingly stringent sanctions, to gain Iran’s abandonment of enrichment. McCain has put his emphasis on using sanctions rather than offering carrots. It’s time now to carry this debate forward. For any dialogue to work it must be accompanied by sufficient leverage to entail real consequences for Iran. Such leverage on Iran is now sorely lacking. And, each day the price of a barrel of oil increases, or Iran obtains new international investment interest in its energy infrastructure, or expands its international trade options, this leverage decreases further. The fact is that the EU has tried dialogue with Iran without real leverage for over two years. They have offered numerous political and economic carrots to convince Iran to suspend its enrichment program, but to no avail. And, Europe certainly has more carrots and more influence with Iran these days then we do. Our agreeing to lift US sanctions is not that precious to Iran and not likely to really buy us any of their good will. They digested US sanctions long ago. And we didn’t get much from Iran the last time we lifted our sanctions. So, what can we do now to find the necessary leverage to make dialogue work? The answer may lie in a combination of steps that perforce, must include new sanctions that target Iran’s real economic vulnerabilities – its fragile financial system; its energy, transportation and communications sectors; and its urban commercial class. This commercial class is key to holding Iranian urban unemployment figures from plummeting, and may well represent Iran’s Achilles heel. Such sanctions must also be accompanied by meaningful incentives for compliance, and credible threats of further international ostracism and ultimate military action for failure to comply. But, neither the Security Council nor our European Allies have yet been willing to move down this road. Instead, EU negotiators are now preparing for a new round of dialogue with Iran, which could start as early as next week. They will present Iran with a sweetened package of incentives worked out by the so-called P 5+1 (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China). What seems to be absent from the package, however, is a list of credible sanctions that the Security Council and/or the EU would impose if Iran, as is now likely, rejects these proposals. While the Bush Administration has opted out of any actual discussions with Iran about this package, the US has signed up to the list of incentives being offered. Unfortunately, indications are that this round of dialogue is even less likely to produce positive results than previous efforts. Last week, and in anticipation of the upcoming talks, Iran presented its own letter and terms to chief EU negotiator Javier Solana and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The letter re-affirms Iran’s intransigence with regard to its uranium enrichment program. It indicates that Iran might be willing to consider an international consortium arrangement, provided enrichment activities would continue in Iran. They also insist that the discussions address an impossibly broad range of ancillary issues covering “the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa and Latin America.” Their proposal also links the creation of a Palestinian state to such talks. Let’s not forget that Iran has been working on uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons for some time. And, credible estimates indicate that Iran could achieve nuclear weapons capability in as little as 3 to 5 years. The G8 leaders already viewed this program with alarm back in 2003 when they warned that they could no longer “ignore the proliferation implications of Iran’s advanced nuclear program.” But, every day brings Iran closer to capability and to a point of nuclear weapons knowledge from which there is no return. The closer Iran approaches nuclear capability, the fewer options the international community will have. We have to ask ourselves now just how close we are willing to let them come. Time is running out and we, and the international community, must soon come together on an effective strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and putting it in its place. If not, dialogue can no longer be an answer – more extreme measures will be required.