Iranian Official: 'We Have Bypassed the West's Red Lines'

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Here's the quote of the day (from yesterday), from a story by the New York Times' man in Tehran, Thomas Erdbrinck:

"Without violating any international laws or the nonproliferation treaty, we have managed to bypass the red lines the West created for us," said Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is close to the negotiating team.

There's been a lot of happy talk about the possibilities of real breakthrough at the upcoming P5 + 1 talks in Baghdad next week, in which the members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, try to steer Iran to an off-ramp. I've even been cautiously pessimistic (as opposed to vociferously pessimistic). But I keep hearing this little whisper from them that know: "The Iranians are better at negotiating than the West."

The Israelis are aware of this, and are worried that Iran will game the system until the point at which they have entered the so-called "zone of immunity," in which their nuclear program is so hardened and buried that no Israeli attack could set it back. This is precisely the worry of the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, and President Obama is keenly aware of Barak's worry. This is from my Bloomberg View column today:

Obama believes that Barak, and not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is the Israeli leader agitating most vociferously for a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, a strike the Obama administration thinks would be grossly premature and quite possibly catastrophic. (Your humble columnist concurs with this assessment.)

If Barak sees these talks as productive -- especially in light of evidence that the U.S. and its allies are doing a credible job of keeping Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold -- then Obama will have successfully pushed off an Israeli strike, at least until after the U.S. presidential election in November.

Barak has made clear that he seeks one thing above all in the nuclear talks: for Iran to shut down its formerly secret nuclear enrichment facility at Fordo, near the city of Qom. Obama has made Barak's preoccupation with Fordo his own.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/05/iranian-official-we-have-bypassed-the-wests-red-lines/257202/