Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:40 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:40 | SYDNEY

Obama hinting at Iran policy change? Probably not


Sam Roggeveen


7 April 2009 10:44

Foreign Policy blogger Stephen Walt thinks he detected a nuance in Obama's Turkey speech (h/t Yglesias):

Finally, I was struck by the language he used when addressing Iran’s nuclear program. He said that “the peace of the region will also be advanced if Iran forgoes any nuclear weapons ambitions” (my emphasis), adding that "Iran's leaders must choose whether they will build a weapon or build a better future for their people." Was this a subtle hint that the United States might be willing to tolerate Iranian enrichment, provided that we are confident that it was not masking a covert weapons program?

I doubt it. Note that Russia is building a nuclear-power reactor for Iran at Bushehr, an effort that the US was opposed to in the 1990s but which the Bush Administration did not push hard against. In fact, the European-led effort to negotiate Iran out of its enrichment program (which the US supports) has included an offer to build more reactors for them.

So, adding 'weapons' to this passage was necessary to distinguish the parts of Iran's program that the Administration does not like from the peaceful nuclear activities that the US has no objection to. At present, enrichment is in the former category, not the latter, and there is nothing in this passage to indicate a change.

UPDATE: Via WPR, I see Stephen Walt is not alone; there is broader speculation that the US may give way on enrichment. But although I accept that's a possibility, I still don't see how Obama's words can carry that implication. The FT says:

On Friday, Mr Obama summarised the US message to Iran as, “Don’t develop a nuclear weapon” – a form of words that would not rule out a deal accepting Iranian enrichment. Mr Bush was much more specific in calling Iran to halt enrichment.

If Obama had referred specifically to enrichment, that would have omitted the other bits of Iran's program which the US objects to, like the conversion facility at Esfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Wouldn't that have sent the wrong message?