I asked an expert involved in developing sanctions policy, Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, what he thought was going on. He was glum, telling me: "As Istanbul gives way to Baghdad and now to Moscow, one hopes the Obama administration is running out of patience as well as unfriendly capitals to host yet another round of talks."
Between now and the next meeting, he recommends some spine stiffeners: "Now is the time to get the new Iran sanctions legislation into conference committee, strengthen it in some fundamental ways and get it passed. That's the right message to the Iranians and those whose negotiating strategy is to cave at the first sign of Iranian brinksmanship." Dubowitz urges the administration to support sanctions "that blacklist the entire energy industry as a zone of proliferation concern, shut down the use of energy companies like Naftiran Intertrade and all other Iranian energy entities used as Central Bank of Iran workarounds to settle oil trades, impose a comprehensive insurance embargo on the underwriting of any sanctionable activity, designate the National Iranian Oil Company, its scores of subsidiaries, and NITC (Iran's tanker fleet), enforce a comprehensive embargo on the imports of all goods and services for Iran's broader commercial sector except for food and medicine, and enforce the establishment of both Europe and the United States as Iranian oil-free zones."
But given what we have seen so far, it is quite possible, even if sanctions pass, that the Iranians are unmoved. (Given how silly the U.S. negotiators sound, you'd understand if the Iranians were not quaking in their boots.) What then? Dubowitz is blunt: "Congress should then declare on a bipartisan basis that, despite the best efforts of the administration, all sanctions and diplomatic measures are exhausted. It then should require President Obama to follow through on his commitment to use other, more coercive instruments of American power to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program."
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), put out a statement, which reads in part: "The Iranian regime still hasn't stopped enriching uranium, hasn't turned over its enriched uranium stockpiles, and hasn't let international inspectors into suspected weapons-related testing sites. In fact, all Iran has agreed to is further talks." She concluded: "The endless negotiations are helpful only for Iran, no one else. Only crippling sanctions will stop the nightmare of a nuclear-armed Iran, the world's leading state-sponsor of global terrorism, from becoming a reality."
Those crippling sanctions that Dubowitz and Ros-Lehtinen describe should have been passed by the Senate months ago. Congress could by now have seen if sanctions are indeed useless. If they were, in fact, proved useless, Congress would be in a position to do exactly what Dubowitz recommends: Declare sanctions a failure. While the U.S. negotiators twiddle their thumbs and "get to know" the Iranians, Israel will need to decide just how long it will put up with the negotiations charade and how soon it must act. If the latest U.N. report is correct, it is sooner than we thought.