This past week, we had a new State of the Union speech to examine, one that addressed the Iranian issue on two important counts.
The first, and least difficult to miss, was Obama’s vow to continue pursuing diplomatic engagement with Iran, even if it means vetoing any bill from Congress that would have new sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.
This vow, by now widely reported in the US, was welcomed gleefully by The Huffington Post, unsurprisingly so, which praised Obama for foiling AIPAC’s “entire campaign to destroy America’s chance to reach an agreement with Iran.” So much for “all options on the table” – the military option has been removed and now the threat of sanctions. What’s left? If anything brought Iran to the table, it was the “options on the table”. The Post cuts under its own interests of reaching a genuine deal.
Onto the second reference to Iran in Obama’s speech, which was described by CS Monitor’s Scott Peterson as a “tactical retreat”: in his address, the president backtracked on previous administration declarations that a final-status deal with Iran would force it to “dismantle” its nuclear program, saying only that the interim deal struck in Geneva in November “halted the progress”.
The vague language belied the fact that the crucial word – dismantlement – was missing. No mention was made of centrifuges, either – the same centrifuges Iranian President Hassan Rouhani swore just this week he would not agree to destroy.
So how dramatically was Iran’s nuclear progress halted? Just how much progress was made for the first time in a decade? If you ask Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November’s deal set Iran back by just six weeks. Let’s hope that in negotiating a final-status deal, world powers will opt for a more substantial delay – even if it means having to reintroduce “dismantlement” into the conversation.