With one-sixth of the Obama administration's term of office
complete, last week it revealed its profound commitment to an unprecedented
policy of eschewing the exercise of great-power diplomacy and indeed of
being willing to consciously accept humiliation in the hope of gaining
future advantage from talking with hostile but weaker nations.
Following up on his campaign commitment to unconditional
diplomatic talks, the president in dealings last week with Iran and North
Korea through his government yielded previously asserted conditions for
negotiations as a price his administration is willing to pay for talks with
Earlier in the year, the president set Sept. 30 as a deadline
for Iran to suspend its nuclear program in return for substantial talks with
the United States or face tougher economic sanctions. Also, the president
previously sent personal letters to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in hopes of
direct, private engagement.
On Sept. 8, Iran responded that talks are possible, but only on
various general international issues; the country's nuclear program would
The U.S. government then announced that Iran had achieved a
"possible breakout capacity" to develop bomb-grade materiel from its
enrichment of uranium quickly, if it chose to do so.
"We have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting,
at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option," said Glyn Davies, U.S.
ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The administration
continued to hold out the threat of U.N. sanctions, although Russia and
China would need to support or not oppose such measures in the United
Nonetheless, the administration defied expectations by taking up
the offer to negotiate directly with Iran. Then Iran's foreign minister,
Manouchehr Mottaki, briefly raised expectations, saying he would not rule
out discussing the nuclear issue "should the conditions be right."
Parallel to these considerations, in July, our president entered
into negotiations with Russia to possibly give up anti-missile defenses
(against Iranian missiles) in Poland and the Czech Republic as part of a
proposed "reset" of U.S.-Russia relations. This followed a private letter
from the American president to the Russian president suggesting we would get
rid of anti-missile missiles in exchange for Russia's supporting sanctions
against Iran for its nuclear development. This private letter was ridiculed
publicly and rejected by Russians.
Last week, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Russia
would not support any intensification of sanctions on Iran. Russian Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin added for emphasis that Moscow has "no grounds to
doubt" Iran's claim that its nuclear program is purely peaceful and that
"any use of force, delivering any kind of strike, won't help, won't solve
the problem. On the contrary, it will hurt the entire region. As for
sanctions, they won't bring the desired effect."
Finally, after Washington accepted that offer of face-to-face
negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and after Mottaki
raised expectations of nuclear discussion, Ahmadinejad then asserted (via a
conversation with a British diplomat) that "from the Iranian nation's
viewpoint, the nuclear case is closed." He went on to say, "Having peaceful
nuclear technology is Iran's lawful and definite right, and Iranians will
not negotiate with anyone over their undeniable rights."
U.S. officials gamely said that expectations of a breakthrough
were "extremely low" but that Washington was ready to test whether Iran was
genuinely interested in dialogue. It added, "If Iran is willing to enter
into serious negotiations, then they will find a willing participant in the
U.S. and the other countries."
So for eight months, the administration has reiterated its
ultimatum that either Iran must agree to direct talks on its nuclear program
by Sept. 30 or we will get economic sanctions from the U.N. during which
eight months we have been dangling before Russia offers of rescission of our
anti-missile commitments to Poland and the Czech Republic in exchange for
Russian cooperation with sanctions (and general nuclear disarmament).
Then last week, in perhaps coordinated succession, Russia
refused to support sanctions; Iran offered to talk maybe about nukes; we
accepted talks; Iran then refused to talk nuclear issues; and we nonetheless
continue to agree to talk under whatever terms are offered by the
fraudulently re-elected murderer of his own people and aspiring Jewish
genocidist, Ahmadinejad. For the greatest nation on earth to accept such
impertinent treatment by so vile a despot is a profound lesson in humility.
But North Korean developments last week showed that the
administration's Iranian policy is no fluke. The North Koreans have long
wanted direct talks with the U.S. on the wide-ranging subject of their
nuclear ambitions. Until last week, the U.S. long insisted that it would
speak directly to North Korea only if that nation already had agreed to
rejoin the six-party talks, and then any one-on-one contact would be limited
to pushing Pyongyang back into multilateral negotiations over its atomic
But last week, first Pyongyang declared that it is close to
being able to enrich uranium, a development that would give North Korea a
potential second means of building nuclear weapons. Then, no longer
surprisingly, a State Department spokesman announced we would abandon the
six-party-first requirement and meet one-on-one with Pyongyang negotiators.
"We are prepared for a bilateral talk, if that will help advance the
six-party process," he said.
Since our founding, the United States has protected its
sovereignty and national interests through the practice of a proud and
defiant diplomacy (backed up by ample martial capacity) admittedly at the
price of fairly constant warfare. Now we are entering a new and great
experiment: practicing diplomacy with a humility almost worthy of the Prince
of Peace. We shall see whether such methods work in this world.