Many writers on this site have been making the case for some time that the Obama administration’s failure to deal effectively with the geopolitical environment in the Middle East—especially the growing consequences of the Syria meltdown—would sink the administration’s signature Middle East diplomatic effort: the attempt to get a permanent nuclear deal with Iran. That position gets new support in this NYT story this morning:
“The Iranians desperately needed leverage,” one European negotiator said Wednesday after weeks of arguments over how many centrifuges Iran would be permitted to keep spinning, and how fast the sanctions that have so crippled the economic lives of ordinary Iranians could be lifted. “They clearly think the American fear of getting sucked back into Iraq may be just the thing, at just the right moment.”
Iran is trying to use the flameout to get additional leverage to force the U.S. to make concessions on the nuclear deal, while traditional U.S. allies’ fear of Iran has sharply risen as the regional meltdown strengthen’s Iran’s position. The space for a deal—which anyway was never very large, as the gap between the 50,000 centrifuges Iran wants and the 3,000 the US thinks it should have is hard to finesse—seems to be shrinking. The deadline for finalizing the deal is July 20; it now looks as if an extension of the current limited arrangement so talks can continue is the best the Obama administration is likely to get.
If an extension is all that the U.S. gets, that won’t be the big win the President needs to challenge the growing consensus in the U.S. and abroad that the White House has lost control of events. The failure to develop an effective Syria policy looks more expensive every day.