Leading article: Barack Obama must hold his nerve on Iran

For all the mutual distrust, diplomatic efforts are yet to be exhausted

Share
Related Topics

There are many alarming aspects to the escalating tension over Iran's nuclear programme. But perhaps the most worrying of all is that every pressure on Barack Obama – be it political, economic, or, most of all, electoral – is pushing him to take a hard line. He must resist.

This week's fractious talks between the US President and his Israeli counterpart have only added to the strain. Mr Obama attempted to set a temperate tone: blending the assurance that the US will "always have Israel's back" with a much-needed warning about the dangers of too much "loose talk" of military conflict.

Benjamin Netanyahu showed little sign of softening his bellicose stance, however. "I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation," the Israeli Prime Minister told his US audience, adding a darkly emotive comparison with US unwillingness to bomb the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

It is not that Israel's concerns about Iran are unjustified, or that it has no right to defend its interests. And with Iran rapidly shifting its enrichment facilities into heavily fortified bunkers beyond the reach of Israeli weapons, Mr Netanyahu's assertion that "none of us can afford to wait much longer" is an understandable one.

Nonetheless, both sense and feeling argue in the strongest possible terms against an attack on Iran. Not only would such a move achieve little, setting Tehran's nuclear ambitions back by perhaps two years at best. The cost – in terms of loss of life, of diplomatic relations soured for a generation, and of the potential for wider geopolitical catastrophe – is simply too high.

Neither should Mr Obama's resistance be restricted to the subject of an immediate strike. Mr Netanyahu wants the US to draw a "red line" – which, once crossed, would trigger instant military intervention – at Tehran's acquiring the capacity to build a bomb. So far, Mr Obama has maintained his position, insisting that the red line is not the capability but the construction. But the pressure on him to give ground will only increase.

Such strained relations with Israel would be tricky for a US president at any time. In an election year, they become egregious indeed. To appreciate the risks, one need look no further than the otherwise-lacklustre Republican candidates' efforts to characterise Mr Obama as soft on Iran. But it is not only the exigencies of the relationship with Israel which are putting the President's Iran strategy under the microscope.

With oil prices up by more than 10 per cent thanks to uncertainties over sanctions on Tehran, there is also the drag on America's burgeoning economic recovery. Even worse, petrol prices nudging up towards $4 per gallon are electoral poison in the land of the sports utility vehicle. The President is right to counter calls for military action against Iran with the observation that the sanctions programme is yet to fully bite. He will have to stand firm even as the effects of the strategy are felt at home.

Sanctions are not everything, however. For all the mutual distrust, diplomatic efforts are yet to be exhausted. And it is here that Mr Obama must direct his energies.

There has been real progress. Last month saw international nuclear inspectors allowed into Iran for the first time in three years, and, after a rather patchy start, they are now to gain some access to the controversial military site at Parchin. Meanwhile, Tehran's offer to resume nuclear talks with the West has been accepted.

Given Iran's long history of playing for time, it would be naïve to expect too much. But with so much at stake, it would be irresponsible not to make the most of any opportunities for an amicable solution. Election or no election, Mr Obama's primary responsibility must be to avoid a war.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced