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British Prime Minister confirms Iranian nuclear threat as Obama warns Romney that it is no game

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The Guardian's Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger have reported that British Prime Minister David Cameron has explicitly stated that Iran is intending to develop nuclear weapons. This comes just months after the same newspaper revealed that the British military has begun putting in place preparations for a possible war with Iran. That said, Cameron still backs sanctions and is particularly concerned with China and India.

David Cameron has warned that Iran is seeking to build an "inter-continental nuclear weapon" that threatens the west, as he urged Israel to allow time for sanctions to force the Iranians to change their strategic stance.

He was speaking after the cabinet was briefed for an hour by the national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch, on the imminence of the threat to the UK posed by Iran.

... Cameron stressed that Iran should not be seen as "a mini superpower" but as "a disastrous country" with mass unemployment and a dysfunctional economy.

He said he still believed the track of sanctions should be pursued, arguing EU-wide sanctions were causing dislocation to the Iranian foreign exchange position and "should not be sniffed at".

He said the next step was to get the Indians and Chinese to also refuse to buy Iranian oil.

The issue of the ties between Iran and India is particularly important given that India is the second largest purcahser of Iranian oil, but is a democracy and is allied with the West and Israel. Armin Rosen has a very interesting piece in Tablet today, outlining the various aspects of India's double-game on Iran.

India sees an opportunity in the West's isolation of Iran. At a time of diplomatic freeze and economic sanctions, the Islamic Republic needs all the friends -- and all the buyers for its embargoed natural resources -- that it can get. India, meanwhile, needs a regional partner that can squeeze Pakistan. And all the better if that partner happens to be sitting on deep reserves of crude oil that can help satisfy the growing energy needs of the world's largest democracy.

India is the world's second-largest purchaser of Iranian oil, at over half a million barrels a day -- and the Indian government is now trying to bypass financial sanctions on Iran by paying for oil using agricultural staples or Indian rupees, which Iran has no choice but to reinvest in the Indian economy. Of course, these purchases would undermine the Western sanctions regime, which includes an E.U. ban on the importation of Iranian crude. It would also frustrate the attempts of the United States and Israel --countries with which India has deep, mutually beneficial ties -- to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

That said, there are signs that India is edging further towards the international consensus on Iran. As Walter Russell Mead recently noted on his Via Meadia blog, India has been in the process of diversifying its energy sources -- presumably in anticipation of the consequences of a potential war, where India would have no choice but to stop importing Iranian oil.

President Obama's policy of pressuring Iran through economic sanctions got a big boost over the weekend: India's biggest oil importer announced plans to cut its Iranian crude purchases by 44 percent in 2012-13, Reuters reports. The cutbacks suggest that Indian imports from Iran will fall by about 20 percent overall, with much of the replacement supply coming from Iraq.

Clearly the impact of sanctions has something to do with this shift. There have been recent reports of Indian and Iranian firms using barter deals to avoid working through the banking system where sanctions have a real bite.

... Even as India took a step that substantially increases pressure on Iran, President Obama told AIPAC yesterday that loose talk about war with Iran is unhelpful ... Via Meadia respectfully disagrees. The "loose talk" that the President deplores is what more than anything has made his policy successful so far.

Countries like India need a stable supply of oil. If you think there is a significant chance that some kind of war might make Iranian oil less available, you would logically look to diversify your supply. That is a business decision and has nothing to do with whether you believe in sanctions or support US policy goals.

The clear and present danger that Iran will be unable to fulfill its commercial commitments due to the consequences of military action (whether started by Iran, Israel or the United States) forces other countries, even those like India and China who are opposed to a boycott of Iran, to reduce their dependence on such an unpredictable supplier.

 

Iran as a US election issue

Meanwhile, Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has written an op-ed in the Washington Post that slams what he sees as Obama's inaction on Iran. Romney drew many parallels between today's presidential race and the 1980 race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, committing to model his policy on Reagan's by beefing-up America's military presence in the Persian Gulf in preperation for the need to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

Barack Obama, America's most feckless president since Carter, has declared such an outcome unacceptable, but his rhetoric has not been matched by an effective policy. While Obama frets in the White House, the Iranians are making rapid progress toward obtaining the most destructive weapons in the history of the world.

...As president, I would move America in a different direction.

The overall rubric of my foreign policy will be the same as Ronald Reagan's: namely, "peace through strength." Like Reagan, I have put forward a comprehensive plan to rebuild American might and equip our soldiers with the weapons they need to prevail in any conflict.

... We can't afford to wait much longer, and we certainly can't afford to wait through four more years of an Obama administration. By then it will be far too late. If the Iranians are permitted to get the bomb, the consequences will be as uncontrollable as they are horrendous. My foreign policy plan to avert this catastrophe is plain: Either the ayatollahs will get the message, or they will learn some very painful lessons about the meaning of American resolve.

Obama responded in a press conference [video below], accusing Romney of playing political games while having no substantive difference in policy:

This is not a game. And there's nothing casual about it. And, you know, when I see some of these folks who had a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them, specifically, what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years. It indicates to me that that's more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done, is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.

There were many responses to this Obama-Romney back-and-fourth, here are some notable ones: Jennifer Rubin agreed with Romney that Obama was using empty rhetoric; Greg Sargent pointed to analysts who also believe that the Republican policy is not substantially different from Obama's; Jonathan Chait distinguished Obama from Carter, claiming that Obama benefits from a more hawkish position and less foreign policy disasters; and Uri Friedman took an amusing position, contrasting Obama quotes with Bush quotes to also make the point that Obama's policy is not substantially different.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

 


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