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Iran's Nuclear Programme: Obama Backs Himself into a Corner

Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Scott Lucas in La Stampa (English Text)
The Latest from Iran (29 September): The Forthcoming Test?

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OBAMA IRAN NUKESLast week's high tide of politics over the Iranian "secret nuclear plant" still has some unpleasant backwash today, 48 hours before the US and other "5+1" powers meet Iran in Geneva. Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal takes the prize for meaningless swagger with his declaration of a neo-conservative resurgence: "A view of the world that understands that American power still furnishes the margin between freedom and tyranny, and between prosperity and chaos, is starting to look better all the time. Even in France."

Meaningless because, unless Mr Stephens is ready to lead the bombers over Iran, there's precious little he can do to back up the bluster. Far more importantly, the Obama Administration may be finding that it has talked itself into a high-profile corner.

The clue is the latest White House spin to the front-line newspapers. Yesterday's New York Times gives the game away. On the surface, it proclaims, "U.S. Is Seeking a Range of Sanctions Against Iran", but the more you read, the narrower that range becomes. Officials admitted, "The United States was not likely to win support for an embargo on shipments of gasoline or other refined fuel to Iran. The European allies...view this as a 'blunt instrument' that could hurt ordinary Iranians, inflame public opinion and unite the country behind the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

The initial flourish, offered after President Obama's statement last week, that even Moscow was in line with a tough approach has sagged limply: "Administration officials acknowledge it will be difficult to persuade Russia to agree to harsh, long-term sanctions against Iran, whatever the assurances that the Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, gave last week to Mr. Obama. China, these officials say, is even less dependable, given its reliance on Iranian oil and its swelling trade ties with Iran."

So all that's really left in "the range" is the suggestion of barriers to investment in Iran's gas and petroleum industry and more restrictions on Iranian financial institutions, covered by the assurance, "The administration also is seeking to build a broader coalition of partners for sanctions so that it may still be able to act against Iran even if China and Russia were to veto harsher measures proposed in the United Nations Security Council."

And even then promise of multilateral action is further constricted today. The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House will still face numerous challenges matching its rhetoric on sanctions with real international action, said U.S. and European officials involved in the process. That makes "the U.S. Treasury -- and not the United Nations -- the main focus of the West's financial campaign against Iran for now...The Treasury has pursued dozens of unilateral sanctions against Iranian banks, government officials and defense companies in recent years in an attempt to pressure Tehran."

The US Treasury? As far as I can tell, the American effort has gone from a united international front against Iran's threat to a "coalition of one".

There's still some blowing of smokes in places like Tuesday's Washington Post with the declaration, "The Obama administration is laying plans to cut Iran's economic links to the rest of the world if talks this week over the country's nuclear ambitions founder." Once again, however, it only takes a few paragraphs to see through Sanctions' New Clothes: "The administration has limited options in unilaterally targeting Iran, largely because it wants to avoid measures so severe that they would undermine consensus among countries pressing the Iranian government."

When rhetoric finally arrives at the obstacle of action, steps mentioned include making it more difficult for foreign firms to get adequate insurance for investments in Iran. But, surprise, surprise, the US has been pursuing that effort for years, so there is nothing new in the measure. Nor is it clear how much more punishment can be meted out by the suggestion of tightening restrictions on Iranian financial institutions.

And none of this can obscure the inconvenience that, as noted in The New York Times, major investors like Russia and China are likely to keep investing and trading. Credit to Simon Tisdall of The Guardian for stating the blunt facts:
Iran provided 10% of China's crude oil needs last year; its market share is expected to grow. Chinese companies and middlemen are supplying one third of Iran's refined petroleum requirements as western companies back off. Earlier this year the China National Petroleum Corporation signed a $1.7bn investment deal with the National Iranian Oil Company. The overall Chinese energy stake in Iran is said to be worth $100bn.

Speaking before crucial nuclear talks in Geneva, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu urged the US, Britain and other UN security council members to eschew confrontation. "We believe that all sides should take more steps to ease tensions and resolve problems, not the opposite," she said. Beijing's meaning was plain. Even if it supported sanctions in principle (which it does not), it was not disposed to support measures that would harm its national economic self-interest.

It appears that the US plan was to show up at the Geneva talks with a loaded gun. An article in Sunday's Washington Times revealed:
President Obama's decision to confront Iran with evidence of a secret nuclear production site Friday was the culmination of a deliberate strategy over the past nine months to gain maximum impact from the disclosure by building up to it with other steps on the world stage.

A high-ranking administration official [said] that while the White House knew about Iran's construction of a second uranium enrichment plant before Mr. Obama took office in January, it waited to drop the bombshell until U.S. officials had conducted extensive diplomatic advance work.

Even when Iran disrupted the plan by telling the International Atomic Energy Agency of its second enrichment plant, the Administration kept a grip on the holster; indeed, by the time Obama made his statement, he was waving a pair of six-shooters.

Only one thing. If you're going to bring a gun to the table, you best make sure you've got enough bullets. And the Administration is beginning to discover, very late in the day, that it may not have even one in the chamber.

No amount of bluster, not even of Stephens-esque proportion, does not remove that difficulty. Indeed, it only bears out the ill-judged strategy of speaking loudly and carrying a very small stick.

Reader Comments (3)

[...] Enduring America [...]

The MSM and the US bit hook line and sinker. After looking at that the issue for a few days I am utterly convinced this was a calculated ploy by Iran. I don't buy the reason they released the information because the US knew about. The US reacted as predicted but they offer no hard evidence this site is for weapons productions. Their arguement is built around perceived deception. I think Ahmadinejad and the regime are using this as cover to create a threat so he can lock down his state and crush the reform movement. I can't see any other plausiable reason even if the US knew about the site for them to divulge this information. Sadly, again it will be the common Iranian people who will suffer the most out of this. Politics once again trumps basic human rights!

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBill Davit

This is simple deception at work by evil minds whom seek power and self exaltation! Their (both Obama and Iran) pride is all of worth and of great value and nothing else is of higher importance! Obama will win if he secretly bows in humble defeat to Iran's pride and be elected again! Though Iran's pride and power will excel the more! Obama's false humility will be americas downfall of any and all pride of the liberals but especially its peoples who are tired of playing the god game by threats and no stick! Its called manipulation and it is a key ingredient in deception! Obama seeks to fight deception with deception using manipulation to protect and have his his great messiah ego excel before all the world! He is fighting the pros on their ground and will lose! Deception will cause Obama great distress and a great fall for all involved with him! His pride will be conquered with us all, as he knows not the way of a "just war" or American light! He knows no principle to fight from! He is a coward from head to toe and a traitor to americas reason to exist! This is clearly Irans will to power over Obama's illusions and will to be great! Obama will fail as well america with him! Evil begets evil, deception more deception - all to keep ones pride in tact for the approval of the wicked liberal mind! True righteousness no linger exists in america!

October 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbruce potter

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