The Obama Administration imposed further sanctions against an uncooperative Iran today, possibly signaling that its hopes for a regional grand bargain are foundering. The New York Times reports:
Amid signs that Iran’s military is resisting efforts to open up its nuclear program to deeper inspection, the Obama administration on Friday imposed sanctions on several Iranian organizations, including one run by the reclusive scientist who is widely believed to direct research on building nuclear weapons.
In a statement, the White House said the sanctions were a continuation of its strategy to crack down on groups suspected of seeking to avoid or violate existing sanctions, even as “the United States remains committed” to striking an accord by late November that includes “a long-term, comprehensive solution that provides confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”
But in the month-and-a-half since the talks were extended, Iran has missed a major deadline to provide information about its nuclear research, declared it would not allow visits to a military site suspected of being part of nuclear component testing, and said it was completing work on far more powerful centrifuges to make nuclear fuel.
In yesterday’s press conference, the President held a firm line on Bashar Assad, rejecting the idea that the United States would work with him, and made significant overtures to both Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis. Put together with today’s events, there’s a shadow of a suggestion that the White House may be rethinking its grand strategy in the Middle East.
Thus far, President Obama has consistently prioritized seeking a rapprochement in Iran, where in return for being guaranteed security and recognition of a degree of regional hegemony by the United States, Iran would surrender its nuclear ambitions. This strategy by necessity discomfited many Sunnis, and both terrified and enraged longstanding U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Now even some hard-core doves are beginning to worry that Iran is unwilling to hold up its end of the proposed bargain. At the same time, at least some Administration officials appear to be realizing that Sunni fears of Shia domination are a contributing factor behind the rise of groups like ISIS. The White House has invested heavily in the idea that better relations with Iran could lead to more stability in the Middle East. If doubts about the wisdom of that course are beginning to penetrate into the Oval Office, some dramatic changes in U.S. policy might be closer than many think.