Friday’s headlines in major papers like The New York Times were that after years of on-again, off-again talks, Iran and the six major world powers were close to a nuclear deal. By Sunday there was no deal, with the talks foundering on a seemingly intractable obstacle -- Tehran’s insistence that the West along with Russia and China formally recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium.
In addition, France took a hard line over Iran’s plans for a heavy water reactor, insisting on strict limits and inspections to limit the plant’s capability to produce plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons.
The talks are to resume Nov. 20, once again around the bargaining premise that the West would lift or ease crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran limiting or, better yet, giving up its nuclear program.
Iran insists, to almost universal disbelief, that it is not seeking to build nuclear weapons but needs to enrich uranium for power plants and medical uses. However, Iran under the ayatollahs has made no secret of its ambitions to be the pre-eminent power in the Gulf region.
President Obama openly regards reaching a deal with Iran as a badly needed foreign policy triumph. He intervened personally last week to ask the Senate Banking Committee to hold off action on a bill imposing even tougher economic penalties on Iran.
And Secretary of State John Kerry has said though his spokesman that additional sanctions at this time would be “a mistake” and a vote against diplomacy.
In addition to a large bloc in Congress that thinks Obama is too desperate to reach a deal, the president faces the implacable opposition of Israel to any agreement that allows Iran to expand its nuclear program beyond what it already has. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sarcastically described the emerging outlines of the possible agreement as “the deal of the century.” Only slightly less harsh in their opposition are Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states.
Iran has a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who has said he wants better relations with the West. But the West has a pattern of seeing signs of moderation in new Iranian leaders that somehow never materialize.
Obama has less and less room to maneuver as his approval ratings fall and his administration becomes consumed with salvaging the launch of his health-care plan. A nuclear deal with Iran, assuming one is possible, may have to wait for a new president who does not have Obama’s baggage with Israel and Congress.
Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.