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Monday, December 25, 2006

Keeping the promise on Iran

Keeping the promise on Iran
Shmuel Rosner
The Americans' phased plan for dealing with Iran is progressing slowly, but it remains on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's agenda. And every time, the bar is raised. It is never raised a lot, due to the necessary compromises with the rejectionists in Moscow. But every time, it is possible to declare an achievement: We promised, and we kept our promise.
The problem is that so far, this has produced no tangible results. And the Iranians have already promised that this time, too, they have no intention of displaying flexibility. Therefore, the U.S. will soon announce the next target for the bar.
The U.S. and its European partners in the coalition against Iran succeeded in transferring the nuclear issue from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the UN Security Council. That was the first significant stage. Then, they achieved a resolution in principle on sanctions, but without actual sanctions. That was the second stage. And today, if there are no last-minute delays, a third stage will be achieved: actual sanctions. Miserable and anemic though they are, that threshold will have been crossed. For the first time, Iran will receive actual punishment, albeit largely symbolic, for its ongoing disregard of the international community's demands. Until now, it has been punished only with words.
And on the horizon, there are already imaginary American and British warships en route to the Persian Gulf. This plan has not been finally approved yet, but it was leaked to the American television station CBS this week - and not by accident. The U.S. has two targets it wants to deter, and to whom it wants to signal that its patience is waning: Iran, lest it entertain ideas of a lethal response to the sanctions; and the international community, lest it retreat from the sanctions decision at the last minute.
This week, Mossad chief Meir Dagan once again restarted the countdown to zero hour, which he placed in 2009. But the Iranians have their own ways of adjusting the clock's hands. Yesterday, they suddenly agreed to give the UN various documents it had requested about their uranium enrichment activities in Natanz. As a European diplomat told Reuters, "they're being good guys at the moment" - overseas. But in Tehran, the head of Iran's nuclear program warned about the implications of the sanctions resolution - not only for future Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, but also for "other political and economic cooperation."
In any event, Western analysts were once again embroiled in an old debate this week, one that recurs every time a candidate who leans toward the reformist camp wins an Iranian election: How significant was the defeat suffered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's associates - and can it be viewed as a sign of possible change in the regime's behavior? At either extreme of this debate are those who see every slightest development as a sign of the imminent collapse of the ayatollahs' regime and those who consider it unshakeably stable. Between these extremes lie the confused politicians who must decide how to behave toward Iran.
The debate gives them little new information, but many excuses for dragging their feet: If there is a chance for change, then it is possible to wait a little longer. After all, maybe this much-desired event, which would do their work, will actually happen before zero hour.

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