Time and again I’ve heard diplomats highlight a common point with regard to using diplomacy as a conflict-resolution tool: the process is long and requires patience. Yet since this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference President Obama has been emphasizing that while using diplomacy with Iran is still possible, “time is short”, or something to that effect.
Is this a pressure tactic or is it a nod to the Israelis that he is indeed listening to their incessant argument that Iran is quickly approaching some scary-sounding “zone of immunity” that would make its nuclear program invulnerable to military strikes? (Note that Colin Kahl recently challenged the logic of the Israeli claim when he explained in February that since strikes could at best set Iran’s nuclear program back 1-3 years and may actually result in a rush to militarize, striking now could in fact be very counterproductive). Perhaps its both.
Whatever the case, the President repeated the warning (also a favorite of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) on Monday in South Korea where he is attending a nuclear security summit. CNN reports that he is also scheduled to meet with the Russians and Chinese to discuss Iran later in the day.
Here are the Iran-focused parts of the President’s remarks at Seoul’s Hankuk University:
By working to meet our responsibilities as a nuclear power, we’ve made progress in a third area—strengthening the global regime that prevents the spread of nuclear weapons. When I came into office, the cornerstone of the world’s efforts—the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—was fraying. Iran had started spinning thousands of centrifuges. North Korea conducted another nuclear test. And the international community was largely divided on how to respond.
And know this—there will be no more rewards for provocations. Those days are over. This is the choice before you. This is the decision you must make. And today we say, Pyongyang, have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the North Korean people.
So too with Iran. Under the NPT, Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy. In fact, time and again the international community—including the United States—has offered to help Iran develop nuclear energy peacefully. But time and again Iran has refused, taking instead the path of denial, deceit and deception. That is why Iran stands alone—as the only member of the NPT unable to convince the international community that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. That is why the world has imposed unprecedented sanctions, slowing Iran’s nuclear program.
The international community is now poised to enter talks with Iran’s leaders. Once again, there is the possibility of a diplomatic resolution that gives Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy while addressing the concerns of the international community. Today, I’ll meet with the leaders of Russia and China as we work to achieve a resolution in which Iran fulfills its obligations.
There is time to solve this diplomatically, but time is short. Iran’s leaders must understand that there is no escaping the choice before it. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands. Iran must meet its obligations. For in the global response to Iran and North Korea’s intransigence, a new international norm is emerging. Treaties are binding. Rules will be enforced. And violations will have consequences. Because we refuse to consign ourselves to a future where more and more regimes possess the world’s most deadly weapons.