Are sanctions on Iran working? Clearly, what the U.S. and the European Union have done so far is having an effect. Iran’s ability to import gasoline is sharply down, causing pain on the Iranian streets that might in turn cause pain to the clerical regime.
But will the economic pressure be sufficient to persuade the ayatollahs to halt their bomb-making effort? In his Wall Street Journal column today, Gerald Seib says that “there's a genuine need to find out whether Iran's leaders—at least some of them— might actually be interested in a way out.” Nobody, he adds, “thinks the odds are very good, but the economic pressure now is real enough to test the possibility.”
How would such a test work? Seib’s answer is a last-ditch attempt at engagement of the sort that the Obama administration tried in its first year, and to which the president, at a recent gathering of journalists in the White House, once again opened the door. Seib quotes Gary Samore, the White House point man for nuclear proliferation, spelling out the advantages of such an offer: "If they refuse to talk that obviously makes it easier for us to make the case that Iran is the obstacle, and that there is a need to increase the pressure."
But let’s turn Samore’s proposition on its head. If the Iranians do agree to talk, would that not, by logical extension, make it harder for us “to make the case that Iran is the obstacle, and that there is a need to increase the pressure.” Yes, an Iranian refusal to engage would indeed be clarifying. But acceptance would be the reverse. And what is truly obvious is that talks take time, and time is of the essence. The Obama administration itself is now saying that the clock will run out—and Iran will have passed the nuclear point of no return—in approximately a year. The Iranians already understand very well what they need to do to ease the pressure, and they clearly don’t want to do it. Talks are a synonym for stalling—Iran and ourselves—and would only draw us closer to the disaster of a nuclear-armed Iran that is already coming fast upon us.