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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Iran playing for time

In an interview on Israel Radio on Thursday morning, Israel's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, was dismissive of the progress that Iran is making toward acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to Barak, Iran has not reached the point of no return. There is still time to stop them.

The White House agrees.
The US also downplayed Iran's latest announcement of nuclear progress, saying Tehran's reported advances were "not terribly new and not terribly impressive."

"We frankly don't see a lot new here. This is not big news. In fact it seems to have been hyped," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

"The Iranians have for many months been putting out calendars of accomplishments, and based on their own calendars, they are many, many months behind," she said.
And apparently Iran agrees too. They are seeking new talks, which, with the Iranians, is always a stall for time.
Meanwhile, Iran has told world powers it is ready to resume talks as soon as possible over its disputed nuclear program, according to a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, an offer that could reflect its difficulty in coping with tough US and European sanctions, or amount to another delaying tactic as it moves ahead with activities that could bring it closer to developing an atomic bomb.

The letter from chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was sent Tuesday, just a day before Iran claimed two major advances in producing nuclear fuel and indicated it was on the verge of imposing an oil embargo on European countries to retaliate for sanctions. The Obama administration dismissed the announcements as unimpressive and said Tehran's erratic behavior was indicative of the squeeze it is feeling as a result of hard-hitting economic measures against it.

"We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues which can provide ground for constructive and forward looking cooperation," Jalili wrote in the letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the point of contact for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, who are demanding that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment.

Ashton had written Jalili in October, offering Iran a new round of talks toward an agreement that "restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."

Jalili welcomed Ashton's statement of respect for Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy use and said that "by committing to this approach, our talks for cooperation based on step-by-step principles and reciprocity on Iran's nuclear issue could be commenced," according to a translated copy of the letter.

A "constructive and positive attitude towards Islamic Republic of Iran's new initiatives in this round of talks could open (a) positive perspective for our negotiation," Jalili wrote. "Therefore, within this context, I propose to resume our talks in order to take fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation in the earliest possibility, in a mutually agreed venue and time."

Asked about Jalili's letter to Ashton, Nuland said the US was speaking with its partners about it. Hinting at the contents of the Iranian response, however, she said: "It may be that they felt the need to bluster on their nuclear side even as they make clear that they do want to come back to the table for talks."
Let's not fool ourselves. Everyone here is on a different page.

The Obama administration is seeking to forestall Israeli action until after the elections so that the Israelis don't mess up Obama's party, and so that Obama has a much heavier stick to wield over Israel's head than he has with a reelection campaign staring him in the face.

The Iranians might even be willing to stop or slow down their 'progress' for a short while, because even they realize that even if they make no 'progress' toward a nuclear weapon for the next nine months, until November 6 they are making progress just by holding Israel off.

And the Israelis are looking nervously at the calendar and realizing that whether Iran is developing a nuclear weapon or not, unless a Republican manages to unseat Obama, time is running out for us. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta may have put a damper on an Israeli strike in the spring by saying that Israel would strike in April, May or June, but there's really no need to wait that long. It can certainly be done once the rains end - which typically happens in the last ten days of March. It could even happen as soon as March 7, 8 or 9, the days associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates a defeat of the Persians, although it's raining heavily today and is supposed to rain and snow through Saturday night (yes, we may get snow in Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon and evening). Will it happen in March? I can't say. But I can say this: Unless there are clear polls indicating that Obama is going to lose the US elections, there will be an Israeli strike on Iran before November 6. We probably made a mistake by not striking in the last days of the Bush administration. That mistake won't be repeated. Bet on it.

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