Progress in talks on Iran's nuclear program could pose a dilemma for… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)
My colleague Paul Richter reports a potential breakthrough in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program:
“The United States and five other countries have agreed to offer a joint proposal to Iran at a high-level meeting next week in an effort to open a path for negotiations to curtail Tehran's disputed nuclear program and to ease the threat of war.
“When they meet in Baghdad on May 23, the six powers will offer to help Iran fuel a small reactor used for medical purposes, and to forgo imposing further United Nations economic sanctions.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012
“In exchange, Iran must agree to halt producing 20% enriched uranium, which could be upgraded into fuel for nuclear weapons, and to surrender its stockpile of the material. The proposal also calls for Iran to halt operations at an underground enrichment facility, near the city of Qom, that is relatively invulnerable to military attack.”
This offer may come to nothing, but suppose the Iranians bite? That would pose a dilemma for Mitt Romney: stand back and allow the negotiations to proceed, or play politics? Pandering to the Republican Party’s Rick Santorum wing, Romney has accused President Obama of Jimmy Carter-like fecklessness in dealing with Iran. In a Washington Post op-ed, Romney said, “While Obama frets in the White House, the Iranians are making rapid progress toward obtaining the most destructive weapons in the history of the world.”
Obviously Obama has been doing more than fretting, but Romney was entitled to some political poetic license. But if the negotiations look as if they will succeed -- vindicating Obama’s support for sanctions combined with a veiled threat of military action -- Romney could play the statesman he wants to become by holding his tongue.
Is he capable of such forbearance? Early signs aren’t encouraging. Romney’s foreign policy advisor, Alex Wong, vouchsafed an interview to Mitt-friendly Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin in which Wong all but accused Obama of appeasement.
Rubin writes: “In a fleeting analogy to Neville Chamberlain he told me, ‘The fact of an agreement with Iran that you can wave in the air is not what we need.’ He stressed that in the event of an agreement, 'President Obama will be judged on what’s in the agreement.’ ” And judged harshly, if Romney finds it wanting, or maybe even if he doesn’t have a substantive problem with an agreement. Conceding that Obama wasn’t Jimmy Carter redux would displease the Republican base.
On the other hand, a burst of bipartisanship from Romney on Iran might impress the same swing voters who welcomed his rejection of a Jeremiah Wright-themed attack ad. And Romney could still savage Obama on what he says is the central issue of the campaign, the economy.
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