Sunday’s front page New York Times story which claimed the Obama administration was planning to hold one-on-one talks with Iran on its nuclear program spurred predictable condemnations from Republicans that the agreement was an "October Surprise" to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman a close ally of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, condemned the report as evidence that the Obama administration planned to jettison U.S. allies so it could pursue bilateral talks with Iran.
The Times sourced this story to senior Obama officials, leaving little doubt that it was a deliberate leak to help the president politically. The more important issue, however, is the real possibility that Iranian leaders agreed to these talks because they view President Obama as a weak link in the West’s efforts to pressure Iran to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration rejected the report and said it has no intention of abandoning its allies to hold one-on-one talks with Iran. Iranian officials also denied the report.
According to the Times article, the proposed one-on-one talks reflected secret U.S. diplomacy with Iran that has been ongoing since the beginning of the Obama administration.
The alleged agreement for U.S.-Iran talks goes to the heart of President Barack Obama’s controversial claims that his Iran policies have been more successful than those of his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
The problem is, the threat from Iran has grown worse since 2009.
Obama officials came to office claiming that their more conciliatory approach to Iran would lower tensions and convince Tehran to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons. This did not happen. Instead, U.S.-Iran relations have worsened and Iran is significantly closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon.
For example, when Obama assumed office in January 2009, Iran did not have enough low enriched uranium (LEU), if further enriched to weapons grade, for even one nuclear weapon. Today, Iran has enough LEU for five to seven nuclear weapons and could convert this LEU into enough weapons-grade nuclear fuel for one weapon in as little as three weeks.
Click HERE to read a detailed analysis by LIGNET.com on the status of Iran’s nuclear program.
The president was strongly criticized by Republican members of Congress for his administration’s reluctance to condemn the harsh crackdown against Iranian pro-democracy demonstrators after the fraudulent Iranian presidential election in June 2009, because it did not want to endanger the chances for multilateral talks on Iran’s nuclear program. As a result, France, not the United States, led the world in speaking out against the Iranian regime’s use of violence against its own people. This was a clear sign of American weakness.
Iranian rhetoric and behavior have remained radical and threatening during Obama’s first term and grew worse over the last year. In September 2011, U.S. officials announced an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up a Washington restaurant. Last November, so-called Iranian ‘students’ raided the British embassy in Tehran. A series of Iranian plots to attack and kill U.S., U.K., and Israeli diplomats have been reported this year. Last August, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said "the fake Zionist (regime) will disappear from the landscape of geography" and reportedly ordered the country's elite Quds Force to conduct new terror attacks on the West.
Several times this year, Iranian officials have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian navy has conducted naval exercises in this area to demonstrate its intention to threaten the strait.
The Obama administration’s resolve to keep the pressure on Iran was called into question over the last year by its reluctance to implement tough sanctions against Tehran. Although Obama and Vice President Biden asserted in recent debates that their administration led the world in significantly strengthening sanctions against Iran, the truth is that these sanctions were passed by Congress late last year over the president’s objections. In addition, the Obama administration exempted all of Iran’s 20 major trade partners from the new sanctions in late June.
Iran also watched as the Obama administration in 2012 feuded with Israeli officials and made preventing possible Israeli airstrikes against Iran a higher priority than stopping the Iranian nuclear program.
Although U.S. sanctions on Iranian banks passed by Congress have hurt the Iranian economy, Europe, not the United States, has become the strongest opponent of the Iranian nuclear program. The European Union implemented an oil embargo against Iran in June that has done deal real damage to the Iranian economy. EU officials remain strongly committed to the P-5+1 process and have shown no signs of giving into Iran’s demand that Western sanctions must be dropped before it will agree to negotiations on its nuclear program.
If the New York Times report is accurate, it reflects something more troubling than Obama officials trying to manipulate foreign policy to stay in power. It probably indicates an effort by Iran to target the Obama administration as the weak link in the West’s stepped-up economic pressure that is choking the Iranian economy. Given the Obama administration’s eagerness for a diplomatic settlement with Iran and its resistance to pressuring the Iranian regime, an effort by Iranian officials to strike a separate deal with Washington to relieve sanctions and drive a wedge between the U.S. and its allies is a logical step.
It is very likely that Iran is confident that the Obama administration will never attack it unless Iran attacks first and that Obama officials — if they remain in power — will continue to work to rein in Israel and prevent it from conducting airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities,.
The challenge for Mitt Romney in Monday’s final presidential debate is to clearly explain the foolhardiness of the administration’s effort to jettison its allies by holding one-on-one talks with Iran. While more diplomacy with Iran should be attempted, Mr. Romney must stress that all options remain on the table in dealing with Iran. He should also emphasize the need for productive talks with Iranian officials that keep up the pressure up and to not fall prey to Iranian ploys that could create divisions between the U.S. and its allies and buy more time for Tehran to continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Fred Fleitz is Managing Editor of LIGNET.com, a Washington, DC-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service.
Click HERE to read LIGNET’s latest analysis of this issue.
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