The Iran Nuclear Impasse

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev emerged from a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama with a more open attitude toward tougher sanctions against Iran in the event negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program don’t produce results. That’s a pretty quick dividend from the missile defense decision, but I think Nikolas Gvosdev is spot on here:

But the crux of the matter for the U.S. is not when Tehran crosses theline and has a working bomb, it is trusting Iran to have a nuclearinfrastructure like Japan’s. I think that Russia will be far moresupportive of “trusting” Iran with nuclear technology than a U.S. whichwould prefer a much higher degree of Iranian denuclearization. And Ithink it is here that we will still have daylight between thepositions, unless something else changes the calculus.

For an informative take on what “trusting” Iran with the so-called “Japanese deterrent” would look like, try this Gary Sick article.

What it comes down to is that the best the U.S. and its Western partners can likely hope to achieve through negotiations is an intrusive IAEA inspections regime that offers the maximum level of transparency to satisfy the “verify” clause of the “Trust, but verify” formula. My hunch prior to the Iranian elections was that the Obama administration was setting the stage to make that politically palatable. The problem is that the events in Tehran post-June 11 all but fatally undermine the “trust” clause of that formula. They also render the multinational uranium consortium option, whether in Iran or offshore, less likely as a face-saving option for everyone.

This isn’t to say that Obama’s approach was flawed, just that the ground has changed underneath it. (The same thing has happened to his Afghanistan policy, for that matter.)

Nevertheless, it’s hard to see where the release valve now is on this one. Even given Medvedev’s change in tone, China has resisted Obama’s appeal to support sanctions and has reportedly begun supplying Iran with gasoline in anticipation of an embargo.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday suggested a December deadlinefor Iran to show progress in talks. And in his speech to the U.N.General Assembly, also yesterday, Sarkozy essentially put Iran on notice fora military strike, saying Tehran would be making a “tragic mistake” ifit expected the West to remain “passive” in its response to whatSarkozy called a military nuclear program.

I’d be surprised if that was coordinated with the U.S. position, because it seems like the kind of remark that limits all sides’ room for maneuver at a time when the exact opposite is what is needed.

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