Can we get a nuclear deal with Iran?
In diplomacy, always leave your adversary an honorable avenue of retreat. Fifty years ago this October, to resolve a Cuban missile crisis that had brought us to the brink of nuclear war, JFK did that.
Is the United States willing to allow Iran an honorable avenue of retreat if it halts enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and permits intrusive inspections of all its nuclear facilities? Or are U.S. sanctions designed to bring about not a negotiated settlement of the nuclear issue, but regime change, the fall of the Islamic Republic and its replacement by a more pliable regime? If the latter is the case, we are likely headed for war with Iran.
What would cause anyone to believe Iran is willing to negotiate?
There are the fatwas by the ayatollahs against nuclear weapons and the consensus by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007, reaffirmed in 2011, that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
Nor has the United States or Israel discovered any site devoted to the building of nuclear weapons. The facility at Fordow is enriching uranium to 20 percent. There are no reports of any enrichment to 90 percent, which is weapons grade.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has mocked the idea of Iran building a bomb in the face of a U.S. commitment to go to war to prevent it. And Tehran seems to be signaling it is ready for a deal.
According to the United Nations watchdog agency, Iran recently converted more than one-third of its 20 percent enriched uranium into uranium oxide, a powder for its medical research reactor.
The New York Times also reported Thursday that Iran had proposed to European officials a plan to suspend enrichment of uranium in return for the lifting of sanctions. By week's end, Iran was denying it.
Yet common sense suggests that if Iran is not determined to build a nuclear weapon, it will eventually come to the table. Iran already has enough 20 percent enriched uranium for medical isotopes and more than enough 5 percent enriched uranium for its power plant. Further enrichment gives Iran nothing in the way of added security, but it does ensure that the sanctions will be sustained and perhaps tightened. And those sanctions are creating tremendous hardships on the Iranian people.
In two weeks, Iran's currency has lost a third of its value. Iran's oil exports are a third of what they were a year ago. The cost of food and medicine is soaring. Inflation is running officially at 25 percent. Foreign travel is drying up. Workers are going unpaid. In short, the oil embargo and economic sanctions are working, and Ahmadinejad is rapidly losing support.
So a new question is on the table. If Iran advances ideas to demonstrate that it has no weapons program, but insists on what President Obama said he supports — Iran having a peaceful nuclear program under U.N. inspection — will America accept that?
Or will we make demands so humiliating no Iranian government can accept them, because our true goal is regime change?
No one would weep if the Islamic Republic fell. But this is a tough crowd. If we give them only a choice between humiliation and escalation, the hard-liners in the regime and Republican Guard will likely take the death-before-dishonor course.
Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”