10/16/2005 12:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Policy? What Policy?

Condoleezza Rice’s short trip to European capitals and Moscow, partly a mission to drum up support for referring Iran’s nuclear dossier to the U.N. Security Council, is in all probability a failure. Not because our European allies aren’t with us on this issue but because the Russians aren’t, a fact that was illustrated by the joint press conference Ms. Rice held in Moscow with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. The Russians made it clear that they believe Iran has a right to the nuclear fuel cycle under both the NPT and the Additional Protocols, which effectively means that they would not support referring Iran to the Security Council based on the resumption of uranium enrichment activities in Isfahan. The U.S. grudgingly admits that Iran has the right to enrichment, but insists that the argument isn’t about rights, it’s about obligations. And since Iran hadn’t fulfilled its obligations to the IAEA for some eighteen years, the Secretary argues, then Iran cannot ever be entrusted with the nuclear fuel cycle.

So where does this leave us vis-a-vis U.S. policy toward Iran? What exactly is the end-game, if the U.S. is unable to either refer Iran to the UNSC or if it is referred, the Russians (or the Chinese) use a veto to kill any resolution? It seems to be getting clearer that Iran has allies who will ensure that no sanctions will be imposed even if the dossier makes it to the Security Council, and that Iran will also continue a domestic nuclear fuel cycle. Condoleezza Rice has been at pains to emphasize U.S. support for diplomacy rather than force, but what if diplomacy fails to produce the result that the U.S. wants; i.e. Iran forever forgoing uranium conversion and enrichment?

It doesn’t appear that the State Department knows or perhaps even cares. Karen Hughes, our Public Diplomacy Czarina, when asked at keynote speech she gave on Friday what the U.S. plans were for public diplomacy with Iran, a country we have no diplomatic relations with, her reply was “Well, thank you very, very much. That's an interesting question and it's one that I really haven't focused on at this point. I've, as you can imagine, my days are quite busy and I have been focused on kind of putting in place our strategic direction worldwide. I have not specifically focused on how to communicate in countries like Iran where we do not have formal diplomatic relations. But that's an interesting and I'll certainly look into it.”
So there is at present no public diplomacy initiative with Iran. Nor do we have any plans to engage Iranians, or to try and explain our positions to the Iranian people, positions that are extremely unpopular even amongst those Iranians most against the regime of the Islamic Republic. And given that Karen hasn’t really thought about it, then we have to assume she hasn’t given much thought on how to defend U.S. policy towards Iran to the rest of the world in case diplomacy fails. Does that mean we have an indefensible policy, or no policy at all?

The U.S has consistently maintained that Iran will not be allowed to become a nuclear power, and has also maintained that the nuclear fuel cycle is the red line that Iran cannot cross. And in case anyone has any illusions, “all options are on the table”. So, given that the U.N. is hardly likely at this point to prevent Iran from pursuing its rights under the NPT, where exactly is our policy going? Is the war of words between Britain (that accuses Iran of fueling the insurgency in Southern Iraq) and Iran a prelude to something bigger? Is this another Iraq scenario, whereby Iran is accused of supporting terror while we declare the UN to have not been effective in curbing Iran’s nuclear appetite? Or will we somehow get a Security Council resolution and then claim that Iran is ignoring it, thus giving us legal cover to go to war? While we debate on how to get our troops back home from Iraq, perhaps we should also be debating on how to keep them from making a return trip to the region.