Words are easy, action is key
When it comes to making tough decisions, action speaks louder than words. Since the revelations of a covert uranium-enrichment facility near the Holy City of Qom, all hell has broken loose.
President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were quick to condemn Iran's ongoing shell game as well as its refusal to submit its nuclear facilities to periodic inspection. "The existence of this facility," said Obama, "underscores Iran's continuing unwillingness to meet its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and IAEA requirements."
When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad learned that Obama, Brown and Sarkozy had condemned his latest move to hide from international inspections, he told Time magazine, "If I were Obama's adviser, I would definitely advise him to refrain from making this statement because it is definitely a mistake."
Talk about arrogance.
With Iran now having more than 3,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium and more than 8,000 centrifuges -- in other words, the capability to begin building a nuclear bomb -- the United States is undertaking one of the most challenging foreign policy tests of this new administration. And our options are not good.
The United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are engaged in face-to-face discussions with senior Iranian officials in Geneva to resolve whether Iran will allow unfettered access to its uranium-enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom. The hope, said a senior U.S. official in Geneva, is that Tehran will come "clean about their entire nuclear program."
This begs a slew of questions. Or else what? How can we be reasonably certain Iran is not going for a nuclear bomb? How can we be certain there are not even more facilities? Who is in control of these facilities? Is the enrichment, as they state, being used for so-called peaceful purposes?
After a senior U.S. diplomat held a bilateral meeting in Geneva with his Iranian counterpart, Iran agreed to further talks with six major powers on its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Western diplomat sources said preparations were also under way for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit Iran's newly disclosed uranium enrichment facility near Qom before the next meeting takes place.
Previously, Iran snubbed the international community and the patchwork of economic sanctions it has imposed because the United States has failed to convince Russia and China to back up their talk with strong actions. This is no time for lip service. Iran must be forced to comply and come clean with their intent.
Sadly, this is not so easy. It's as complex as the completion of our engagement in Iraq, the status of our mission in Afghanistan, the stability of Pakistan, and so many other difficult and challenging international issues that force us to engage our allies to sit beside us in negotiations.
Our options range from leveling harsher sanctions to possibly relying on military force to shut down and destroy those facilities. "The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time," Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently told CNN. "The estimates are one to three years or so. And the only way you end up not having a nuclear-capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons as opposed to strengthened. So I think, as I say, while you don't take options off the table, I think there's still room left for diplomacy."
One thing appears certain: If current negotiations fail or if the talks are handled badly, we might do what Ahmadinejad can't: unify his country to continue on its dangerous course.
By giving Tehran until the end of the year to prove that its nuclear program is only civilian in nature, the United States is attempting to give the Iranian government some breathing room to allow for full and complete transparency of its nuclear program. "We have agreed with our main partners that we need to see progress before the end of the year, or else we will have to shift toward tougher measures, including stronger sanctions," U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Alexander Vershbow told Russia's Interfax news agency.
Again, actions speak louder than words, and our options are just not good.
For now, we must play out the heretofore unsuccessful game of "carrot and sticks" to see whether this approach will finally persuade Russia and China to remain at the table. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appears willing to advocate for sanctions if Iran continues to snub its nose at world opinion. But how do we get China to stay at the table?
No one is opposed to Iran's right to build a nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes. And Iran, if engaging solely in peaceful purposes, has nothing to fear from this worldwide coalition of nations seeking to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Just remember: Actions speak louder than words.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.