The United States and Iran are apparently conducting bilateral negotiations through official or semiofficial emissaries — a departure from the previous procedure of multilateral talks. Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program do not have an encouraging record. For more than a decade, Iran has stalled, first with the “EU-3” (France, Germany and Britain) and then with the “P5+1” (the members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany). It has alternated hints of flexibility with periods of intransigence, all while expanding, concealing and dispersing its nuclear facilities. If no limit is placed on this process, Iran’s technological progress will dominate events. But at what stage, and in what manner, should Iran be deprived of a military nuclear capability? This has been the essence of the argument over “red lines.”
If so ineffectual a red line were to emerge from a decade of diplomacy by the permanent members of the Security Council, the result would be an essentially uncontrollable military nuclear proliferation throughout a region roiled by revolution and sectarian blood-feuds. Iran would thereby achieve the status of North Korea, with a military nuclear program at the very edge of going operational. Each nation that has a nuclear option would compete to minimize the time to its own full military nuclear capability.
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