Iran's Secret: What's Next?

More

First, note a distinction made by former chief UN weapons inspector David Albright: Iran is more worried about being found in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty than it is with whatever the UN Security Council resolves. The former includes built-in punitive measures, and it is quite possible that Iran built this secret facility with an expansive interpretation of the NPT in mind. Second: there are roughly three levels of economic sanctions against Iran. Level one -- the least punitive -- would be to stop selling them gasoline, something they can't produce themselves. Level two -- a broader array of sanctions on other goods. Level three -- the world shuns Iran's key export -- oil. That would cripple their economy and produce significant suffering among the Iranian people. Here's betting that the U.S. is now working to build Russian and Chinese support for the tier-one sanctions. Finally, note the deadline for compliance set by French President Sarkozy: December. What happens if Iran does not allow full IAEA inspections by then? That was left unstated. Implicitly, the threat of military action by Israel (which, just between us, would make the Saudis and Egyptian leaders kind of happy, although they would pretend to be outraged) has been moved closer to the edge of the table. Still, there is every indication that President Obama wants to do everything he can to settle this dispute peacefully. He was briefed on this intelligence before he became president, and yet he still pursued a strategy of engagement. Iran's acknowledging something the U.S. already knew does not necessarily change the strategic calculus all that much. Indeed, Obama went out of his way this morning to stress that Iran still had a right to a "peaceful" nuclear energy program.

And is this really Obama's first "3 am" moment? Maybe not. The declaration by Iran comes at a great time for the US -- a time when the most powerful nations in the world have just expressed their resolve to punish NPT transgressors. Obama doesn't face a real hard decision here. In part because of the intelligence shared with Russia and China, sanctions are now seen as inevitable. President Obama's most difficult tasks are to figure out a way to ratchet up pressure without violating what he sees as the core premise of his diplomatic philosophy, to manage the (justifiable) triumphalism from Israel without encouraging them too much, and to communicate strength and resolve to the American people, who might well wonder why Obama has spent so much time trying to bring Iran to the table when it knew Iran was lying. What, precisely, does "engagement" mean now? The president's campaign promise to meet with Iran's leaders with "preconditions" is no longer operative.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgement, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In