What Iran's Rouhani wants from America and what Obama wants from Iran

The second round of talks convenes this week in Geneva between the West and Iran over Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Our goal is to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state and to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Iran’s goal is to get the economic sanctions lifted, and get as close to possessing nuclear weapons as possible.


The Obama administration has been vague about what an agreement would entail, but there are three broad possibilities:

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1. The Faux Deal. A preliminary agreement whereby we pause some economic sanctions if Iran agrees to pause some of its uranium nuclear programs.  According to press reports, that is what the Obama administration and Iran had agreed to in the last round of negotiations, before the French stepped in to protest.

This agreement would be far worse than no agreement, because Iran could still develop a plutonium nuclear weapon free from sanctions or threat of military action. In effect, Iran could develop nuclear weapons with our blessing.

2. The Mirage. This agreement would have the West would drop all sanctions in exchange for Iran freezing all of its nuclear programs in place.

This deal might have made sense a year or two ago, but at this point Iran is so close to having a nuclear bomb, that even were it to stop now, the other nations in the region would consider Iran a de facto nuclear power.

No one knows for certain how close Iran is to having enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, estimates range from weeks to months. But no one is talking about years.

Iran’s neighbors will conclude if Iran is not yet a nuclear power, it soon will be, and will launch nuclear weapons programs of their own, setting off a nuclear arms race.

3. The Real Deal.  The only agreement that achieves the goal President Obama and Secretary Kerry themselves have set – one that prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – is a rollback of Iran’s program. If Iran agrees to forfeit its highly enriched uranium, dismantle its plutonium reactor, and agree to an ironclad inspections regime, the West would drop all sanctions and welcome it back into the world economy. Sadly, that is the one deal Iran is unlikely to accept.

I attended a meeting with Iranian President Rouhani in New York this fall as part of his American charm offensive. Rouhani, who traveled to Manhattan for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, made two things clear:

First, the Iranian people have given him a mandate to improve economic relations with the United States (code for getting the U.S. to drop sanctions).

Second, Iran has the ‘right to master the nuclear fuel cycle’ and had  ‘already reached industrial strength uranium enrichment’ (code for we plan to continue our nuclear program and will not roll any of it back). President Rouhani seeks a deal that will let him have his cake and eat it, too.

Even if negotiations drag on, Iran has now inoculated itself from an attack. As long as we are at the negotiating table, the military option is, practically speaking, off the table.

America’s military hand is stayed. So is Israel’s.

Were Israel to attack, and Iran to walk out of negotiations, President Obama would blame Israel.
Israeli President Netanyahu says a nuclear Iran may present an existential threat to Israel, but it’s hard to see how Israel survives in the Middle East without U.S. support.

So we know what President Rouhani wants, but what does President Obama want?

A legacy.

Every president, as he nears the end of his final term in office, thinks about his place in history.  
Nixon did it, so did Clinton.

President Obama’s legacy was supposed to be ObamaCare. Yet, despite his press secretary’s happy talk, ObamaCare won’t get better with time and could well become Obama’s Iraq.

So, like other presidents before him who faced failure at home, Obama now looks abroad for triumphs.

Syria didn’t work out as the administration had hoped, neither did Libya. Secretary Kerry has been buzzing around the Levant trying to strong arm an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but it is a non-starter.

So, Iran it is.  An agreement, any agreement, even a bad agreement, will have to do.

The Democratically-controlled Senate can be counted on to ratify any agreement, and the ever compliant Washington press corps will compare it to Nixon’s historic opening to China.

Should anyone object to the Obama administration’s approach, and try to impose sanctions on Iran, in the words of administration spokesmen, they will be voting for war with Iran.  -- So the enemy isn’t Iran, it's Republicans in Congress!

But there is another option between bombing Iran and letting Iran get the bomb:  tightening economic pressure to the point where the Iranian people demand that their leaders trade sanctions relief for nuclear weapons.

Sanctions have brought Iran’s leaders to the negotiating table because their people demanded it.  
Drop those sanctions now, and Iran’s leaders have no incentive to halt their nuclear programs. The Iranian regime will strengthen their hold on the Iranian people.

Regardless of whether we reach a deal with Iran or not, the likelihood remains that Iran could become a de facto nuclear power in the years ahead.  Here are three things we should do:

1. The U.S. should move now to repair the badly frayed relations with our allies in the region.

2. We should also restore the missile defense programs the Obama administration has allowed to lapse.

3. And, finally, we should develop our own energy resources right here at home.

As long as the United States -- and the world -- gets its oil from the Middle East, we will be drawn into the endless crises that seem endemic to the region.

American energy independence would not only liberate us, it would also drive down the worldwide price of oil.

Iran has no industry other than oil. It needs high oil prices to keep its people happy and pay for its weapons programs, including its nuclear programs.

If Iran’s revenues continue to fall, through sanctions or lower prices of oil or both, the Iranian leaders will be far too preoccupied keeping themselves in power to worry about nuclear hegemony in the Middle East.