Why Obama Is Not Willing to Set Red Line for Iran’s Nuclear Program?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mahdi Mohammadi
Expert on Strategic Issues

The United States President Barack Obama has clearly announced that he considers the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on the necessity of setting a red line for Iran’s nuclear program as a “noise” which he will prefer to ignore.

Although Obama is just about one month away from the forthcoming presidential elections in the United States and should logically avoid of any action which may instigate Israelis against him, when it comes to setting a red line for Iran’s nuclear program, he accepts the obvious risk of public and straightforward confrontation with Netanyahu.

The fact that Obama is not ready to give concessions to Israel over this issue proves that Iran’s nuclear program is not open to deal for the current US administration. In other words, giving in to the Zionists’ demands and setting a red line for Iran’s nuclear energy program is considered so dangerous by Obama that even such a very important issue as the forthcoming presidential polls in the United States cannot change his position.

Why this is so? Why Obama shows so much resistance against this request? There are a few important reasons which should be taken into account.

1. Obama believes that setting any kind of red line by the United States for Iran’s nuclear program will greatly restrict the maneuvering space of the American diplomats in any future negotiations with Iran and will limit negotiating options so severely as to practically render any talks meaningless. There are signs that Obama is determined to go for a new round of negotiations with Iran after November election which will be governed by a logic different from the existing logic which governs Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 group – comprising the United States, the UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany. The worst possible thing that a negotiator can do is to close the doors and restrict their negotiating options before any talks actually begin, and deprive themselves of the possibility to appear flexible in negotiations. Therefore, one reason for the United States reluctance to set a red line for Iran is that such a move will not benefit future negotiations in any way.

2. The second issue is that Obama is basically against the red line which Netanyahu calls to be announced and enforced on Iran’s nuclear energy program. In fact, apart from whether setting red line is actually a good strategy or not, there is no agreement between the United States and Israel about the nature of the red line which should be determined for Iran’s nuclear program. The available information shows that the red line that Netanyahu is asking for consists of two important components: 1. The United States should not accept any form of enrichment activity in Iran and consider a time limit for negotiations, and 2. The United States should immediately put an end to complete transfer of Iran’s 20-percent uranium enrichment activities to Fordow facility and also to prevent the facility from becoming fully operational. Israel is asking and expecting the United States president to clearly announce these two points as the main components of his red line for Iran and also to threaten Iran that in case of noncompliance, the country would be facing the threat of a military attack by the United States.

There are also signs which prove that the United States is not in agreement with any of those components. The initiative that was proposed to the Iranian government by the United States during negotiations in Baghdad clearly showed that accepting Iran’s enrichment program on a medium-term basis was quite a plausible option for the US government. Apparently, the Israelis cannot tolerate and have been enraged by the fact that the US government has reached the conclusion that Iran’s enrichment activities cannot be stopped and they should find a way to live with it and be content with efforts which aim to prevent any diversion in those activities. It is also clear that the US intelligence community has been convinced that Iran’s enrichment program does not seek to build nuclear weapons while Israel basically does not believe in the concept of nonmilitary enrichment by Iran and considers it “undefined.” Therefore, it goes without saying that when the United States is thinking about accepting Iran’s enrichment program, it would be meaningless to openly announce uranium enrichment as its red line and set a time limit to stop it.

The same is true about Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility. When it comes to Fordow, the United States and Israel are in disagreement over three points.

Firstly, Israel believes that the main goal behind establishment of Fordow facility is to build nuclear weapons and this is why Fordow has been built deep underground and below a mountain. The United States, on the other side, disagrees noting that there is no information to uphold Israel’s assessment and prove that Iran is actually trying to build nuclear weapons in Fordow.

Secondly, the Zionists believe that if Iran, by any chance, decided to build nuclear weapons in Fordow, it would not be possible to obtain enough information from the facility in order to know this in due time before it is too late. The United States, on the other hand, says this is only a problem for the Israelis and the United States is getting enough information on the facility to know about any possible diversion at least six months in advance.

Thirdly, the Israelis believe that even if it were possible to get timely information on possible diversion in Iran’s enrichment work in Fordow, due to special situation of that facility, it would not be possible to carry out a military strike against the facility and stop Iran’s program. The Americans have also an answer to that problem. They say impossibility of a military strike against Fordow is only a problem for the Israeli army, but the US Army is not faced with such limitation and if decided, it would be able to stop Iran’s nuclear program even in Fordow.

Regardless of who is telling how much truth on both sides of this debate, and how much of their allegations is just a bluff, it is not difficult to see that there is a deep gap between intelligence and operational assessments of Iran’s nuclear program on two sides. It is exactly for this reason that Obama’s assessment and evaluation of the nature and objectives of Iran’s nuclear program is different from Israel. Therefore, it is not possible for him to adapt his red lines to the red lines set by Israelis.

3. The third reason why the United States is opposed to setting a red line for Iran’s nuclear program is that Washington has frequently tested Iran on this and is well aware that Tehran will by no means commit to any red line. Therefore, insisting on a red line for Iran will have no other practical result but to drag the United States toward a forced confrontation with Iran – which the United States by no means want to face. Just assume that Obama announced that Iran should stop 20-percent uranium enrichment in a few months and also to close down Fordow facility, and then threaten Iran that if it did not comply, Tehran would be at risk of the United States’ military attack. Netanyahu argues that if this happens, it would amount to creditable military threat against Iran which will prevent Iran from crossing the red line. Therefore, without any war, 20-percent uranium enrichment activities will stop and Fordow facility will be shut down (this also conforms to the theory proposed by Anthony Cordesman who believed that posing a creditable military threat will prevent actual military engagement with Iran). Obama is opposed to this argument. The question he asks is “What if Iran ignored this red line and crossed it?” “Would we have to actually go to war with Iran in that case, or be humiliated by going back over that threat?” None of these options are acceptable to the United States. The Americans believe that the Israel is dragging them into a lose-lose game. In case of setting a red line, they will either have to engage militarily with Iran, or lose their credibility altogether. Therefore, the best idea is to basically give up setting a red line for Iran or recourse to creditable military threat.

4. The last consideration is of a political nature. The United States and Israel are close allies and there is no doubt that their alliance will not be dissolved in any near future. However, what has happened of late is that the Americans have reached the conclusion that the intervention of Israel in their internal political affairs has reached an unprecedented level. The White House and Obama now firmly believe that Israelis are trying to codify their policy on Iran in advance of November election and by determining a framework for it, they are trying to adapt the United States Iran policy to their own. Israel is trying to humiliate the United States. Instead of trying to get its point through negotiations and convincing the American politicians, Tel Aviv is threatening Washington that if its viewpoints were not accepted, it would launch a unilateral assault on Iran and cause a historical trouble for the Americans. Obama’s resistance against Netanyahu’s requests is, in fact, aimed at setting a red line for Tel Aviv and protecting the independence of the United States. This has almost been unprecedented in the whole history of the United States. While trying to remain committed to Israel’s interests, Obama has no interest in letting Netanyahu run the White House in his place. This is totally understandable.

Key Words: Red Line, Iran’s Nuclear Program, US, Israel, P5+1 Group, Enrichment Activity, Fordow, Military Strike, Mohammadi

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