Bad news: the Obama administration and the West hold a lousy hand as they go into talks with Iran.
In a world of dreams and miracles, the conversations, starting Saturday, would end with the mullahs renouncing their drive toward nuclear weapons, and the disappearance of a thunderhead of foreboding and grief.
Reality says otherwise, three ways.
It demonstrates that the Iranians are emboldened by the West’s backing off in Syria. It acknowledges that some of the allies have serious concerns about Barack Obama’s willingness to make concessions and stretch out the talks, playing for time, Iranian-style, until after the U.S. presidential election. And it imposes the conclusion that there is no visible way these so-called confidence building exchanges (don’t call them negotiations) can produce confidence solid enough for the United States, Britain, France and Germany to believe that Iran is willing to cast aside the nuclear military program they accuse it of running.
Backed by Russia and China, Tehran has little reason to offer more than a reformulation of its standard maze of denials and ambiguities in response to the West’s weak diplomatic cards.
As little as a month ago, the Obama administration was talking about the imminent departure of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s leader. His ouster would have been a vast blow to Iran, which regards Assad as its closest ally and buffer.
But the West buckled in the face of Russian and Chinese resistance, withdrawing its U.N. Security Council draft resolution that demanded that Assad leave and that Russia halt its supply of arms to Syria. No substantive Western action followed. Assad remains. This is a terrible precedent.