WASHINGTON (JTA) – For Jewish organizational leaders, last week’s unusual U.S.-Iran encounter was a moment to put up or shut up.
Jewish groups welcomed the attendance of the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, William Burns, at multilateral nuclear talks in Geneva with Iran. If nothing else, the groups said, the talks clarified Iran’s positions on its nuclear program.
Burns’ presence signaled to European allies that the Bush administration is serious about exhausting every diplomatic possibility in trying to persuade Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The Bush administration “has shown everyone that we’ve given the carrot,” Foxman said. “It didn’t work, and this is a precondition for a tougher stick.”
At the Geneva meeting last Saturday, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany offered Iran a freeze-for-freeze formula: For six weeks, Iran would stop installing new centrifuges that enrich uranium; in return, the major powers would freeze plans to enhance existing sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Iran did not address the proposal, instead offering its own proposal for more talks but no discussion of halting uranium enrichment activities.
“Iranians are playing the same double game” Saddam Hussein did before the Iraq war, said Shoshana Bryen, the director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which supports a confrontational posture toward Iran.
Bryen said the Iraqi leader alternated between threatening Israel and dissembling over whether or not he had weapons of mass destruction. Then the United States invaded and Saddam ended up in the hangman’s noose.
The Iranian leadership is similarly out of the loop, Bryen said.
“What they’ve missed is that the world is running out of patience with them” – and that includes the Europeans, she said. “What we just did was say, ‘you’re running out of options.’”
After the meeting in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran’s stalling only fuels the momentum for further sanctions against the country.
The meeting sent “a very strong message to the Iranians that they can’t go and stall,” Rice said. “They have to make a decision.
“The diplomatic process now has a kind of new energy in it,” she said, including the “possibility of punitive measures.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is pressing the Bush administration to introduce sanctions that would ban the export of refined petroleum to Iran – a move that could potentially cripple its cheap oil-based economy – and that also would target insurers that underwrite Iran’s energy industry.
Americans for Peace Now said it hoped Saturday’s meeting was “the beginning of real engagement rather than an isolated exception.”
Ori Nir, the group’s spokesman, said Jewish groups could help the process by proposing incentives as well as sanctions to persuade Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear program.
“Explore with the administration a policy that would combine in a responsible and reasonable manner sticks and even more sticks if it’s warranted, with some incentives for Iran to engage positively a resolution of this issue,” he said.