Last Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a direct rebuke to Iran’s nuclear program, demanding that Iran cease construction of a new enrichment plant. The final tally on the censure was 25-3, with Russia and China casting critical votes in favor of the motion. Iran responded to the vote by suggesting that it might withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
Maybe that would be a good thing. No one in the Obama Administration would ever say that Iran withdrawing from the NPT is one of the U.S.’s policy goals, but it might just be the best achievable outcome. I don’t see a problem if our engagement policy pushes Iran out of the NPT.
Of course, our main objective is a reversal in Iranian policy. We want Iran to admit that it has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program and then verifiably dismantle it. The Obama Administration is willing to engage directly with the Iranians to make this happen. The problem is that, given Iran’s history of stalling public negotiations to buy time for covert nuclear programs, there is no reason to believe that the Iranians are going to change.
However, Obama’s engagement policy can be successful with either a positive or a negative response from Iran to our offers. This is because by offering to engage Iran we are actually engaging Russia, China and the rest of the international community. The more Iran spurns U.S. and global engagement, the most extreme instance of which would be withdrawal from the NPT, the closer our position aligns to necessary allies. Russia and China’s votes on the IAEA censure are a clear sign that this is already happening.