Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, told his first news conference that Iran was “ready to engage in serious and substantial talks” about its nuclear program “without wasting time.” President Obama should challenge him to put up or shut up.
The United States and other western countries have been talking with Iran since the 1990s, and no matter who is president in Tehran, nothing ever gets done. The West fears that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, despite Iran’s claim that it is enriching uranium only to fuel nuclear reactors to produce power (or certain medically useful isotopes).
Iran has disregarded warnings from the United Nations and has hidden various activities from inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (a U.N. body). Offers get made and withdrawn, previous commitments nullified, new conditions thrown in — the whole parade of insincere negotiating has been on display. The United Nations Security Council has approved economic sanctions and the United States and other countries have added some their own. Rouhani, formerly Iran’s nuclear negotiator, said the other side in talks must abandon “the language of pressure and threat.”
IAEA inspectors are still being denied access to Iran’s heavy water production plant at Arak, though they have inspected the reactor there. Heavy water (water containing extra neutrons) has advantages in some power reactors; it also enhances the production of plutonium, a byproduct in all power reactors. Plutonium is good bomb-making material.
Obama should arrange a negotiating session. The opening remark on the American side should be: “The IAEA should immediately inspect, without conditions, anything it wants to, including all of the Arak plant, and if it can’t, that’s the end of these talks. That’s not a threat; it’s a promise.” And Obama must keep it.