Time to Get Real on Iran

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In world events, as in human relations, “reality” can be debatable, since we view it through the prism of our own values, beliefs and convictions. One man’s gesture of friendship is another’s excuse for antagonism.

Case in point: Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu this week announced a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements, a major step toward conciliation with the Palestinians — and no doubt with Washington — in light of his right-leaning coalition’s support for the settlements. Though the decision was intended to help re-start the long inactive peace talks, the Palestinian Authority issued an immediate rejection because the freeze did not include east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s effort was criticized widely as an insincere stunt rather than a legitimate concession. But of course it has only been since President Obama called for a complete settlement freeze that the Palestinians have said they cannot resume negotiations with Israel until that happens. What steps toward compromise have the Palestinians made lately? Or ever?

And we are reminded that one man’s gesture of defiance can be another’s excuse for inaction.

On the Iran front, Tehran continues to treat the West, and especially the U.S., with contempt. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced this week that Iran plans to build ten more facilities to enrich uranium. That doesn’t sound like a leader worried about international sanctions. A White House spokesman, responding to the latest news, said, “Time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.”

Seems to us that Ahmadinejad’s statement did address those concerns, as in: we will do whatever we want, and the international community be damned.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has so much invested in its foreign policy of dialogue that it is reluctant, if not loathe, to act on the obvious message from Iran, especially when we are committing more troops to Afghanistan and the war in Iraq grinds on. But unless and until the U.S. backs its rhetoric with toughness, Iran will go on working toward developing a nuclear arsenal — a reality too frightening to imagine.

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