It's time for Obama to give Iran an ultimatum

The Obama administration claims that sanctions against Iran are working. Officials point to the fact that Iran agreed to enter negotiations last week with the so-called p5+1 delegation. In the meantime, officials seem to ignore the findings of their own intelligence officials who say Iran’s nuclear weapons program continues to advance.

The talks, led by the European Union’s policy chief, Catherine Ashton, were held in Istanbul on April 14, 2012. The United States and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany, sent representatives for negotiations aimed at persuading Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.

President Obama appears to believe that Iran’s leaders now feel so besieged they will agree to trade their nuclear ambition for ending sanctions and obtaining some carrots for Tehran.

Iran apparently felt so pressured that the talks lasted only one day. Ashton nevertheless described them as “the beginnings of a sustained process.” That is diplomatic speak for making no progress beyond agreeing to talk again.

Still Obama has hailed the decision of Iran to enter negotiations as a victory for his “tough” sanctions policy.

But talking is nothing new for Iran.

Most likely the country's leaders are not weakening from international pressure but simply repeating the successful ploy they used in earlier talks with the Europeans. Those negotiations went on for years and produced no change in Iranian policy while allowing their scientists to use the time to make greater advances toward the bomb.

Instead of insisting on continuous bargaining, the blundering p5+1 agreed to meet again in five weeks.

Now, the Iranians have bought an additional month to continue work on a nuclear device. They have every incentive to drag out the negotiations to ensure the United States and others will refrain from a military strike on the grounds that a diplomatic solution is still possible. If they can prolong the talks a few months or perhaps a year, they are likely to reach the point where they cannot be stopped from building a bomb.

Obama’s own intelligence services also dispute his claim the sanctions are working. The CIA recently released a report showing that Iran has produced more low-grade enriched uranium and increased its stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent. Furthermore, Iran has increased the number of operational centrifuges and continued to work on the development of long-range ballistic missiles.


We still hear some commentators making the ridiculous claim that the Iranians haven’t decided they want to build a bomb.

No, surely ballistic missile development is part of their program for peaceful nuclear energy. Yes, enrichment of uranium continues at levels beyond those needed for energy or medicine. And, surely, nuclear facilities are hidden under ground in bunkers because they are engaged in innocuous research.

Various other analysts have suggested an Iranian nuclear bomb is nothing to worry about since the country would be afraid to use it for fear another nuclear power would annihilate them.

Why then is the p5+1, which have a deterrent, so worried?

Why are the Arabs petrified?

Why did Saudi Arabia call on the U.S. to attack Tehran?

The desperation to prevent any military action against Iran is leading to increasingly nonsensical arguments about the harmlessness of a nuclear Iran.

One of the latest flights of fantasy was an article suggesting that proliferation was nothing to worry about even though the president of Iran said that he was going to share the nuclear technology.

A member of the Saudi royal family announced that if Iran gets the bomb, it will have to do so as well. At least 12 Arab states have signed nuclear cooperation agreements in the years since Iran’s program became public.

Does anyone really believe they all suddenly decided they needed “peaceful” nuclear energy?

Does anyone seriously believe that the Gulf Oil states are convinced that they have an urgent need to seek a nuclear alternative to petroleum when they pay less than $1 for a gallon of gas?

There was one other nugget in the CIA report that was largely ignored by the media. The CIA report noted that the Syrians had been operating a clandestine nuclear program for more than a decade, but we apparently did not learn about it until just before Israel destroyed their reactor. If you add the ignorance about the Syrian program to the long history of CIA failures in the Middle East, it is easy to understand why Israel and other Middle Eastern countries do not want to trust their security to CIA evaluations of Iran’s capability.

If Obama wants to negotiate with Iran, then he needs to immediately demand that Iran take specific, verifiable measures to dismantle its enrichment facilities and cease all nuclear weapons research.

A deadline must be set for these steps to be completed in a matter of weeks – not months or years. And our president must make clear that the consequences of failing to comply will be a military operation that ensures Iran will not get the bomb.

The time for prolonged negotiations and diplomatic niceties and quid pro quos is long past. Now is the time for ultimatums.

Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst. His latest books are "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East" and "Israel Matters: Understand the Past – Look to the Future."