The president can choose to believe in a mythical fatwa, or he can believe his own negotiator, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. She was asked about the heavy-water nuclear reactor Iran is building in Arak. Heavy-water reactors produce plutonium, a fuel for nuclear bombs. "We do not believe there is any reason for a heavy-water reactor at all in a civil nuclear program ... " Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And come to think of it, why would an oil-rich country like Iran need a civilian nuclear power industry at all? Are there any fatwas suggesting that they're concerned about global warming?
Four months ago, the U.S. significantly eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iranian promises to work out a "long-term comprehensive solution" to the nuclear problem. From the beginning, Iranian spokesmen have claimed that the agreement acknowledges an Iranian right to enrich uranium. The U.S. denies this. So what are they discussing in Vienna? They don't say. Last week, a large majority of the members of Iran's parliament voted to resist any limits on the Arak nuclear plant.
Members of the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, seem worried about Obama's judgment. Eighty-three senators and 400 House members signed letters to Obama that, while clothed in the language of agreement, actually reflect deep concern about his excessive softness on the Islamic Republic. The letters warn of stiffer sanctions to come if Iran does not fully divest itself of a weapons-building capability. They warn of Iranian stalling tactics, and of the danger that the relaxation of sanctions means "Iran is open for business." But most reflective of the anxiety large majorities of the members of Congress feel is their emphasis on congressional prerogatives. Warning that legislative action would be required for any further actions vis-a-vis Iran, the members write "We must signal unequivocally to Iran that rejecting negotiations and continuing its nuclear weapon program will lead to much more dramatic sanctions." Translation: Obama has not conveyed such signals.
If Obama does lose sleep worrying about nuclear terrorism, he should drop his naive parlay with Iran. He may fondly envision a new cordiality between old foes. That's not what they see.