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Kicking the Iran can past election day (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) BENNY AVNI 04/11/12)Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/kicking_the_iran_can_past_election_jfh18lR0lM9Ic9lkcbEU4K NEW YORK POST NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Hope springs eternal that diplomacy will end Iran’s nuclear-weapons quest, but the latest talks with Tehran seem aimed more at kicking the atomic can down the road — preferably until the fall.

Iran hopes to stall so that it can advance its nuclear-weapons program. The West still flinches at confrontation. And President Obama isn’t eager to risk a major foreign-policy crisis before Election Day.

Starting Friday, diplomats from America and five other leading powers will powwow with their Iranian counterparts in Istanbul, resuming negotiations that last collapsed a year ago.

Obama’s aides say the Iranian regime will sooner or later realize that the only way to save itself from collapse, as world pressure rises, is to abandon its nuclear project.

As proof, they point to signs that Iran is already buckling — or at least that some elements within the regime can pull Tehran in the desired direction. For example, ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, still influential, is criticizing current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s extremist anti-American stance.

Then there’s a slight change of tone in the voice of Iranian nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi. He said this week that Tehran might consider suspending some enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level, while continuing enrichment to 3.5 percent “for scientific purposes.”

That, an AP dispatch claimed on Monday, suggests “that sanctions- battered Iran is ready to bargain.”

Sorry. Iran is always ready to bargain. Bargaining — while honing its nuclear expertise and amassing enough nuclear fuel — is what Tehran does best. The question is for how long we will allow futile talks to go on.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday, “It is important for Iran to understand that the window is closing.” He added: “Our bottom line is the cessation of uranium enrichment.”

But will ending all enrichment, as the UN Security Council has long demanded, remain the “bottom line” during this (or the next) round of talks? If so, then why have administration officials been leaking (or trial-ballooning) possible compromises we might offer Iran?

And how long will it take that window to finish closing — if Iran comes up with new (or even recycled) ideas for “compromise”?

After all, sanctions are biting now, and may bite more after a European ban on the purchase of Iranian oil kicks in this summer.

Make what you will of Ahmadinejad’s claim yesterday that Iran can survive for years under such sanctions; the fact is that Iran’s economic crisis is only going to deepen — and the regime’s corruption doesn’t help.

Menashe Amir, director of Israel Radio’s Farsi service, predicts that the mullahs indeed will present some kind of compromise at the first round of negotiations — “just enough to assure that this won’t be the last round, and that the dialogue will continue.”

But the sole decision-maker on the issue, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has spent billions of dollars on the nuclear project; he plainly thinks that nuclear status is essential for establishing Iran as a regional, if not global, superpower. That’s why many Iran- watchers reject the idea that the current pressure is enough to push him into abandoning the project.

Sadly, Washington — and to a lesser degree the Europeans and everyone else — is also playing for time.

The president plainly thinks the status quo is good enough to let him highlight his national-security credentials on the campaign trail. He just needs Iran (and other potential crisis points) not to erupt before November.

That, more than any supposed shifts inside Tehran, is why we can expect “encouraging” progress reports from Istanbul.(Copyright 2012 NYP Holdings, Inc. 04/11/12)


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