Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Isolated from Reality on Iran

| May 10, 2012

Earlier this week, Vice President Joseph Biden misspoke. Normally, this would not be news. But unlike using obscene language, or confusing which Supreme Court Justice administered his oath of office, or talking about the president's "big stick," this time it matters.

The vice president said:

"When we took office, let me remind you, there was virtually no international pressure on Iran. We were the problem. We were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe."

Beyond the obvious point that "we" were not the problem, that Iran's longstanding and repeated violations of its IAEA Safeguards Agreement, multiple IAEA Board of Governors Resolutions, and multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions were and are the problem, the vice president ignores history and distorts the present.

The United States was not isolated on Iran when the Obama administration took office. U.S. diplomacy had succeeded in passing, with Russian, Chinese, and European support, four United Nations Security Council Resolutions from 2006-2008, tightening the web of sanctions on Iran. Moreover, the Bush administration began innovative use of financial sanctions in cooperation with U.S. allies -- a policy the Obama administration has succeeded in continuing and expanding. Russia and China have always favored an incremental approach, so it is to be expected that over time, sanctions efforts would grow more forceful and the Obama administration has succeeded in making them so.

More disturbing is the isolation from reality implied by the vice president's remarks. Touting the success of the administration's Iran policy, he went on to say, "today it is starkly, starkly different." Well, yes, the situation is starkly different. In 2009, Iran had about 4,000 centrifuges enriching uranium; today, its production capacity is more than double that. Iran's declared stocks of low enriched uranium are five times what they were in 2009. Two years ago, Iran began enriching to the much higher level of 20 percent, and can do so in a new, deep, underground facility near Qom.

Despite sanctions, Iran's nuclear program is expanding and accelerating. Iran is to blame for that, not the United States, but whatever can be said for the administration's policy on Iran, it is not halting the nuclear program.


For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Tobey, William H..“Isolated from Reality on Iran.” Foreign Policy, May 10, 2012.

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