In his column yesterday, Hassan does Manhattan, Thomas Friedman wrote about Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani:
1) He’s not here by accident. That is, this Iranian charm offensive is not because Rouhani, unlike his predecessor, went to charm school. Powerful domestic pressures have driven him here. 2) We are finally going to see a serious, face-to-face negotiation between top Iranian and American diplomats over Iran’s nuclear program. 3) I have no clue and would not dare predict whether these negotiations will lead to a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis. 4) The fact that we’re now going to see serious negotiations raises the stakes considerably. It means that if talks fail, President Obama will face a real choice between military action and permanent sanctions that could help turn Iran into a giant failed state. 5) Pray that option 2 succeeds.
While there are no doubt domestic considerations that drove Rouhani to appear conciliatory, there’s one reason that Friedman left out.
A recent skeptical Washington Post editorial put it well:
Mr. Rouhani was in New York on Tuesday not because democracy triumphed in Iran but because Iran’s real leader decided to give the soft-sell strategy a try.

In the end of Friedman’s column, he writes:

The fact that Rouhani could not shake President Obama’s hand (they did speak by phone, in the end) because he feared a photo-op would be used against him by hard-line Revolutionary Guards back home — before he had gains to show for it — tells us how hard it will be to reach the only kind of nuclear deal Obama can sign on to. That is one that affirms Iran’s right to produce fuel for civilian nuclear power, but with a nuclear enrichment infrastructure small enough, and international oversight and safeguards stringent enough, that a quick breakout to a bomb would be impossible.

Geopolitics is all about leverage: who’s got it and who doesn’t. Today, the negotiating table is tilted our way. That is to Obama’s credit. We should offer Iranians a deal that accedes to their desire for civilian nuclear power and thus affirms their scientific prowess — remember that Iran’s 1979 revolution was as much a nationalist rebellion against a regime installed by the West as a religious revolution, so having a nuclear program has broad nationalist appeal there — while insisting on a foolproof inspection regime. We can accept that deal, but can they? I don’t know. But if we put it on the table and make it public, so the Iranian people also get a vote — not just the pragmatists and hard-liners in the regime — you’ll see some real politics break out there, and it won’t merely be about the quality of Iran’s nuclear program but about the quality of life in Iran.
Rouhani and Putin
Rouhani has no trouble shaking Putin's hand -- is the negotiating table really
 "tilted our way"? Credit: Alalam

Iran doesn’t believe that current conditions favor the West. It believes that the West can offer it something it seeks – relief from sanctions – for a price it considers acceptable. While Friedman writes that any deal needs to prevent a “quick breakout to a bomb,” he did not specifically list the one element that is necessary to prevent that.

Two weeks ago Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined four steps that need to be part of any deal with Iran:
The way to stop Iran’s nuclear program requires four steps:

1. Halting all uranium enrichment;

2. Removing all enriched uranium;

3. Closing Qom; and

4. Stopping the plutonium track.

Only a combination of these four steps will constitute an actual stopping of the nuclear program, and until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased.
Charles Krauthammer explained in The Real Rouhani:
It takes about 250 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in August that Iran already has 186 kilograms. That leaves the Iranians on the threshold of going nuclear. They are adding 3,000 new high-speed centrifuges. They need just a bit more talking, stalling, smiling and stringing along of a gullible West.
Friedman simply limited the Western goal to “a nuclear enrichment infrastructure small enough” not the removal of all enriched uranium.

A deal that is good enough for Friedman and much of the West, including, unfortunately, President Obama. What’s most likely to happen is what Barry Rubin described:
The Obama administration considers the election of a new president in Iran a tremendous opportunity, but it isn’t. The administration has always wanted to make a deal with Iran, both to avoid confrontation and for domestic popularity. Obama could claim a peaceful resolution as a great diplomatic achievement. This fits their ideological pattern of negotiations and concessions to enemies, especially to “moderate Islamists.”

But how can this collective deal on the nuclear program and on regional stability be achieved? One way is for Iran’s actual intransigence to go ignored, and for American leaders to pretend to believe a deal can be reached until the time when Tehran gets nuclear arms.
Friedman wants a deal. President Obama wants a deal. This is the prevailing mindset in American foreign policy circles. The elements of a deal are not as important as there being a deal.

Friedman doesn’t fear Iranian nukes.

But that’s only half the story. The Western conflict with Iran is much broader than Iran’s interest in becoming a nuclear power. Dexter Filkins wrote a profile of Qassem Suleimani, the Shadow Commander. Suleimani is the commander of Iran’s Qods force and, effectively, the military commander of Hezbollah.
In 2010, according to Western officials, the Quds Force and Hezbollah launched a new campaign against American and Israeli targets—in apparent retaliation for the covert effort to slow down the Iranian nuclear program, which has included cyber attacks and assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Since then, Suleimani has orchestrated attacks in places as far flung as Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi—at least thirty attempts in the past two years alone. The most notorious was a scheme, in 2011, to hire a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States as he sat down to eat at a restaurant a few miles from the White House. The cartel member approached by Suleimani’s agent turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (The Quds Force appears to be more effective close to home, and a number of the remote plans have gone awry.) Still, after the plot collapsed, two former American officials told a congressional committee that Suleimani should be assassinated. “Suleimani travels a lot,” one said. “He is all over the place. Go get him. Either try to capture him or kill him.” In Iran, more than two hundred dignitaries signed an outraged letter in his defense; a social-media campaign proclaimed, “We are all Qassem Suleimani.”

Several Middle Eastern officials, some of whom I have known for a decade, stopped talking the moment I brought up Suleimani. “We don’t want to have any part of this,” a Kurdish official in Iraq said. Among spies in the West, he appears to exist in a special category, an enemy both hated and admired: a Middle Eastern equivalent of Karla, the elusive Soviet master spy in John le Carré’s novels.
The increased anti-Western activity is probably what forced the EU to declare Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization. Hezbollah has been active in Bulgaria and Nigeria. Iran provides the main support to Bashar Assad’s bloody regime. But the West seems oblivious that whatever is Hezbollah is doing is being done at Iran’s behest. Israel has just arrested an Iranian for spying on American interests. (via memeorandum)

Even if – like Thomas Friedman – you don’t fear Iranian nukes, you should at least fear Iranian anti-Western terror. (I’m not even asking how you can trust someone who is waging a war against you.) Even that Friedman seems unconcerned with.

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