Nothing better showcases Washington’s confusion over foreign policy than the idea that – as part of a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal – Iran would ship much or all of its enriched uranium to Russia, and Russia would then process it for Iranian civilian usage.
Were the U.S.-led “P5+1” negotiators (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) to reach a deal with Iran with this provision, the United States would subjugate its national security and that of its allies to two U.S. adversaries, both of which are undermining U.S. interests around the world.
In addition, Washington would further legitimize Tehran and Moscow as good-faith actors that adhere to global norms and can be valuable partners with the United States, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
The proposal for Iran to ship its enriched uranium to Russia, which is under consideration in the negotiations that restart this week and face a Nov. 24 deadline, is designed to assure the world that Iran cannot quickly upgrade its enriched uranium to a nuclear-grade level in a quick race to a bomb. That the United States can trust Iran and Russia to play it straight, however, seems naive at best.
All in all, the U.S. quest for a deal, as reflected in its negotiations in recent months, bespeaks a posture that makes Washington look desperate and, thus, makes a good deal from the U.S. standpoint less likely.
In the interim U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, in recent negotiations over a final one, and in other high-level U.S.-Iranian communications, President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials have back-tracked on a host of previous U.S. positions.
For instance, Washington now accepts Tehran’s right to enrich uranium and to retain thousands of working centrifuges; ignores the ties between Iran’s enrichment program and both its ballistic missile program and any previous weaponization efforts; and links a nuclear deal to the promise of U.S.-Iranian cooperation on other issues that presumably would help both Washington and Tehran.
Washington seems to believe that, to answer the question Henry Kissinger famously posed, Iran wants to be a traditional country, not a revolutionary cause. Washington dangles the prospect of long-term U.S.-Iranian détente that would balance Tehran’s interests against those of U.S. allies in Jerusalem and Riyadh, integrate Iran more fully into the global system, and promote more Iranian prosperity.
Iran, however, offers little evidence that it thinks the same way. It acts not as a global citizen but, instead, as an outlaw nation by destabilizing its neighbors, sponsoring terrorism, repeating its threats to annihilate Israel and maintaining its “death to America” chants at public gatherings. Through its hegemonic activities, Middle East expert Lee Smith wrote recently for the Weekly Standard, Iran now “boasts control of four Arab capitals – Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and Sanaa.”
As for broader Iranian prosperity, the interim nuclear deal significantly addressed that issue by providing enough sanctions relief to lift Iran’s economy off its back, spurring growth, slashing inflation and strengthening Iran’s currency. Tehran’s economic incentive to relinquish its nuclear quest is now much smaller.
Nevertheless, U.S. negotiators proceed apace, hoping that Tehran will see the world through Washington’s eyes and, now, also hoping that Russia will help secure a final deal through the proposal described above.
U.S. trust for Russia makes little sense, however, as its reckless leader seems intent on flouting international norms, testing Washington and its allies, and, when finding them wanting, expanding Moscow’s reach.
In recent months, Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea, spurred Russian-backed rebels to seize more of Ukraine, and repeatedly violated cease-fire agreements by sending troops and weaponry across its border. He intimidated Ukraine into postponing a landmark trade treaty with the European Union.
Now, with the West responding with mild sanctions and empty threats, Putin is eying further prey. He’s threatening the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and, in particularly reckless and brazen displays, he recently sent Russian strategic bombers along the U.S. and Canadian coasts, nuclear bombers on a practice cruise-missile attack off Canada’s coast, and a submarine to Sweden’s waters.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine, NATO’s top commander said recently, “represent a clear decision by Moscow to reject the fundamental principles that have shaped international security over the past 25 years.”
So, for a final nuclear deal, the United States is considering a proposal to enable the outlaw nation of Russia to work with the outlaw nation of Iran to prevent the latter from developing nuclear weaponry.
That seems more than a little risky.
Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.