U.S. and Iranian Goals Clash at UN Nuclear Conference

What the two countries are really after

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York Monday speaking at the United Nations for a nuclear nonproliferation conference. He has accused the United States of neglecting its international nuclear commitments and trying to shift the focus elsewhere; the U.S. delegation responded by walking out. But as is typically the case with high-level international conferences, there's much more at stake than meets the eye, with both the U.S. and Iran advancing larger strategic agendas. Here's what they're looking for.

  • Showdown at Turtle Bay The Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan and Colum Lynch call this "a showdown between Iran and the United States, with each side jockeying for allies in the escalating dispute over the Islamic republic's nuclear program. ... the Obama administration sees the conference as a crucial opportunity to advance ideas to strengthen the fraying treaty, such as punishing nuclear cheaters and further regulating the supply of nuclear fuel. Iran is expected to block such steps. Any decision by the conference must be reached by consensus."
  • Fears of MidEast Nuclear Arms Race The New York Times' William Broad and David Sanger think that Obama is worried about much more than just Iranian weapons. "The Obama administration has been mounting a country-by-country campaign to go beyond the treaty and ensure that Iran's push toward atomic mastery does not ignite a regional nuclear arms race. In recent months, diplomats have been holding meetings in Washington and shuttling to the Middle East in pursuit of agreements that will let countries develop nuclear power while relinquishing the right to make atomic fuel that could be turned into bombs."
  • ...Too Late, It's Happening Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bush-era U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton fumes, "It is hard to conclude anything except that the Obama administration is resigned to Iran possessing nuclear weapons. ... Even if containment and deterrence might be more successful against Iran than just suggested, nuclear proliferation doesn't stop with Tehran. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and perhaps others will surely seek, and very swiftly, their own nuclear weapons in response. Thus, we would imminently face a multipolar nuclear Middle East waiting only for someone to launch first or transfer weapons to terrorists."
  • U.S. Should 'Cut a Deal' With Iran The Christian Science Monitor urge, "ultimately, if President Obama is to achieve his grand goal of a world without [nuclear] weapons, he will need eventually to cut a deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran and its defiant leaders." They call Obama's planned middle east nuclear security summit "a critical recognition by Obama that his denuclearization effort first requires more active diplomacy toward peace between rivals in the world."
  • Ahmadinejad Laments Nonproliferation Failures The Iranian president told reporters, "The biggest threat to the world today is the production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. ... Unfortunately the [International Atomic Energy Agency] in the past 40 years has not been successful in its mission. We have no disarmament or nonproliferation and some countries have even procured the nuclear bomb during this period." That's a likely reference to Israel's nuclear program. Of course, he also claimed that the U.S. "is the root of world terrorism."
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