James Forsyth

The Iran problem hasn’t gone away

The Iran problem hasn't gone away
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It has been pushed down the news agenda by the economic crisis and by the focus on ‘AfPak’ but I still think Iran is going to be the biggest test of Obama’s presidential leadership. There are no good options when it comes to how to deal with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But letting Iran go nuclear would have even worse consequences than the mooted alternatives.

What is crucial is that the United States appreciates that the clock is ticking and that there is the same risk that the intelligence over-estimates how far Iran is from a bomb as there it is that it under-estimates it. Washington should remember just how cleverly Tehran used the time won by its negotiations with the Eu-3 to make progress on its nuclear programme. It is imperative that Obama’s planned diplomatic outreach, which is right and necessary—diplomatic options must be, and seen to be, exhausted before military ones are considered—happens sooner rather than later.

But worryingly, Michael Hirsh reports in Newsweek that the administration wants to wait until after Iran’s June presidential election before making its diplomatic move. This means that under Obama Iran will have six months to make progress towards being nuclear ready, before Washington and Tehran even start talking about talks.

My other concern with such an approach is that it means the West might over-react to the results of the election. In the same way that the election of Ahmadinejad didn’t mark a seismic shift in Iranian foreign policy or its approach to the nuclear issue, the election of a reformer won’t either. Iran is not a democracy even if it does 'elect' its president.

Hat tip: Ben Smith

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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