Iran is taking advantage of this year's U.S. presidential election to buy time to develop its nuclear weapons program, confident that the Obama administration wants to avoid provoking a foreign policy crisis ahead of the November vote, senior policy analysts and officials say.
James Carafano, a senior defense analyst with The Heritage Foundation, said U.S. officials should be highly skeptical of anything Iran says when it meets with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany in Iraq on Wednesday.
"Iran's going to play-rope-a dope and do everything they can to string the administration along," he said. "The administration is mainly focused on one outcome that will ensure nothing will happen before the November election. Iranian officials know the Obama administration is desperate for nothing to happen and Iran can play that to their advantage."
Although the administration is hoping to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran during this week's meetings, history is not on its side. In mid-April, the Obama administration and Western allies failed to persuade the regime to cooperate with the U.N. during nuclear talks in Istanbul, Turkey. Since Obama took office, U.S. officials have not been able to persuade Iran to take concrete steps to halt the enrichment of uranium, open its facilities to U.N. inspectors and move forward with proof that it will close its secretive Fordow enrichment facility.
At the same time, Iran is benefitting from Republican attempts to score political points by blocking administration initiatives.
Senate Republicans blocked the passage of a bill that leveled economic sanctions against Tehran on Friday, saying that the measure did not go far enough. South Carolina Republican leader Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the bill needed explicit language threatening U.S. military action if Iran continues to pursue nuclear capabilities.
The blockage of the bill is nothing more than political posturing, said a U.S. official familiar with the international sanctions being proposed by the Senate.
The failure to pass the bill makes it more difficult to shut down loopholes currently being exploited by Iran and hold international banks accountable for violating the sanctions that are currently in place. "Iranian officials didn't need to do anything to win this small battle," said the official, who asked not to be named. "While we continue politicking the regime moves forward with the nuclear program and manipulates the West. I expect the Baghdad meeting to be much of the same, with Iran buying more time to build its program."
The Iranian regime has long claimed that its nuclear ambitious are aimed at medical research and energy, not weapons. But most American and international experts dismiss that claim as a transparent lie. Iran is "a dangerous free radical and we can't trust that if they acquire nuclear weapons they won't use them," a U.S. intelligence official said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a strained relationship with Obama, made it clear last week that he has little faith in the Baghdad talks, and warned that the Iranian regime is playing a "chess game" with the U.S. and European powers. Netanyahu has long maintained that any promised concessions by Tehran will never bear fruit.
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney will be keeping a close eye on this week's developments. He has criticized the administration for lacking effective policy against Iran.
Obama's challenge this week will be to gain some tangible proof that Iran is willing to concede to some of the demands set forth by the U.S. and U.N.
Ami Ayalon, who headed Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency, said last week during a visit to Washington that both Israel and the U.S. need to reassess the current strategy regarding Iran. Ayalon believes Israel needs to unilaterally withdraw settlers from the West Bank and resettle them behind the green line before any discussions with Iran can be effective.
He said the West is still relying on a strategy designed before the changes brought about by the Arab spring, one that needs to be upgraded to reflect the new Middle East.
Carafano says limiting possibilities to either "war or negotiations" is a false presumption that will lead to failure.
He suggested another option: The U.S. and its allies should, "work covertly to dismantle the regime from within, because there will never be lasting peace while the old regime is in power."
Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.