As the efficacy of diplomatic engagement with Tehran fades into the far distance, President Barack Obama undertakes another policy shift on a nuclear Iran, although no one in Washington is betting on this U-turn being his last, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports.
At the end of his talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday, July 20, President Obama told the press: "Along with our P5+1 partners (referring to the five permanent Security Council members and Germany), we remain committed to a diplomatic solution, but the Iranian government must understand that the path of defiance will only bring more pressure and more isolation."
The next day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said more bluntly: "At the moment, Iran does not seem to be working on solving the problems with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with real seriousness, and I am skeptical a new round of talks would yield much."
The chancellor thus made no bones about her conviction that a diplomatic solution for the Iranian nuclear was dead and buried. Given her close ties with the White House, Merkel would not have nullified the next round of diplomacy scheduled to begin on September 1 by an off-the-cuff remark without prior clearance.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington report that both comments were generated by Obama's latest policy switch on Iran:
Limited acceptance and containment too dangerous
1. He has abandoned his former willingness to accept an Iran on the threshold of nuclear weapons production. This policy might even have met Iran halfway with big-power acceptance of a small nuclear arsenal. The US president has now decided that a concession on those lines would be hazardous and his administration cannot afford to let Iran get so far along its path toward a nuclear capacity.
The new White House thinking was first reflected in a surprise statement on June 20 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, formerly a vocal opponent of American or Israeli military action against Iran. In an interview with FOX TV, he said: "I don't think we're (the US) prepared to even talk about containing a nuclear Iran."
A week later, CIA Director Leon Panetta, talking to ABC News, asked rhetorically: "Will [sanctions] deter them (Iran) from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability?"
And he answered: "Probably not."
Both spoke out of the new conviction in Washington that the Iranians would not be deterred by the latest round of sanctions, nor tempted to halt their nuclear race by an American offer to accept a limited store of unarmed nuclear warheads as long as Tehran stopped there.
Iran's Islamic rulers have turned down this and all the other compromise proposals put before them by the big powers – and will continue to spurn any new ones – on the principle that they alone, and no foreign power, have the right to determine the nature, content, size and goals of their nuclear program.
The military option is back on the table – long term
2. This determination produced President Obama's second decision, relayed in the last few days to America's five negotiating partners with Iran – Russia, Britain, Italy, France and Germany – as well as Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Having concluded that Iran will not be daunted by US concessions or penalties from its vigorous pursuit of a nuclear bomb, the US president has come to realize that his only recourse is to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities by a military strike.
The military option is therefore squarely back on the table.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington explain that, while the US may not necessarily exercise it this minute, rather in six months' or two years' time – when the White House is convinced Iran has produced bombs capable of delivery by bombers or missiles – the administration believes its dramatic revival of the military option may act as the ultimate whip for goading Iran to stop short of building a bomb.
Whether this expectation is met or not, plenty of brinkmanship lies ahead and a period of limited military engagements in which US and Iran will both endeavor to plumb their opponent's limits.