Cliff May

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, seething over the collapse of the Soviet Empire, wants to become the hegemon of Eurasia — at least. Iran’s Ali Khamenei, outraged by the decline of Islamic power, wants to become the hegemon of the Middle East — at a minimum.

President Obama wants to “end wars,” “give diplomacy a chance,” extend the hand of friendship to those who regard themselves as America’s adversaries and enemies, and, most importantly, cast the United States as an equal member — and no more than that — of “the international community” in the 21st century, which he believes will not be nearly as bloody as were the 19th and 20th centuries.

I fear this is not going to end well.

Pull up almost any photo of the negotiators in Vienna last week and you’ll see European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif grinning broadly. It makes me wonder: What’s so amusing?

Lady Ashton and the other Western European diplomats sitting across the table from Iran’s envoys have a critical mission: To persuade the Islamic republic’s rulers to verifiably terminate their nuclear weapons program. If they fail, the nuclear non-proliferation effort is dead. The chances that nuclear weapons will spread and be used over the coming decades increases exponentially.

The United States and Europe are holding out a carrot: They are willing — indeed, eager — to terminate all economic sanctions on Iran and, what’s more, to fully integrate the regime into the international economic system. It’s a straightforward deal, but American officials, ensconced at Vienna’s elegant Palais Coburg, have termed the talks a “Rubik’s Cube.” I suspect they’ve let process replace purpose.

The diplomats palavering with Iran represent the so-called P5 plus 1: the United States, Germany, France and Britain — but also China and Russia, whose commitment to preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear capability appears less than rock-solid.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.