March 20, 2009 | The Fox Forum

In Overture to Iran, Obama Negotiates Without Leverage

President Obama unveiled the first part of his Iranian policy directly to … the Iranian People. It was a good opening pitch, insofar as it went. But Iran is playing hardball, so the important thing is what kind of pitch Obama throws next.

Right now, Iran has two pressure points, two Achilles' heels, which give Obama a narrow window of opportunity with Iran:

First, Iran's youth population, which is 70 percent of its population, is pro-West and anti-mullah. Last month student demonstrators chanted 'Death to the Dictator' in universities throughout Tehran.

Second, low oil prices have seriously damaged Iran's economy. Eighty percent of its revenues are from oil and gas exports. Iran needs oil to be above around $70 a barrel to meet budget. It's now around $50. If oil remains low, Iran will have to cut back on subsidies and social programs, significantly.

HOWEVER, and this is key — saying nice things to the Iranians isn't enough. The thing I learned from my old boss Reagan is you ratchet up the pressure while you have leverage, you don't suspend it — because negotiating without leverage isn't negotiating, it's begging.

The U.N. and the Europeans and the U.S. have tried the carrots and sticks and diplomacy approach with Iran for a decade. As long as oil prices were high, Iran ignored them. But now that oil prices have fallen, we've finally got some leverage.

Now we need to ratchet up the pressure — economically, diplomatically and financially. Because of Iran's vulnerability we have a narrow window to get what we want from them — a halt to their nuclear program before they develop nuclear weapons.

Iran's vulnerability is temporary, because once oil prices go up they won't need our help. And once they have nuclear weapons — within the next year or two at this rate — it will be too late. If Iran's leaders can play out the clock with us while pretending to “negotiate,” they will have exactly what they want — higher oil prices and nukes. A rich, belligerent, nuclear Iran would be catastrophic — for the U.S., for Israel, for the Middle East, for the world.

Obama is great at speeches and an offering diplomacy. The test will be whether he has the guts to play hardball with the Iranians. Apparently Obama likes to be compared to Reagan; they're both great communicators. Unless he can prove he's as tough a negotiator as Reagan, the leader he'll be compared to is Neville Chamberlain.

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