The strongest message out of the nuclear talks with Iran over the weekend was that western powers are willing to tolerate even the most egregious violations and intransigence by a pariah state only if it agrees to talk nicely. For merely agreeing to talk about talking Tehran was rewarded with less pressure and more time, with the second round of negotiations to be held in late May in Baghdad, of all places. But, clearly, expecting Iran to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty should not require any convincing at all, let alone a decade of negotiations.
It defies common sense that the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) has once again been lured by Tehran into repeating the same mistakes while expecting different results (Einstein called this the very definition of insanity). Almost 10 years of failed negotiations and constant concessions have given no reason to pin hopes on further negotiations.
If one were to take evidence and hard facts as one's sole guide (instead of taking the words of regime officials at face value), with each round of negotiations, Tehran has been able to create rifts in the international coalition against it, build a stronger technical infrastructure, buy more time, add to its enriched uranium stockpile, and improve its capacity to manufacture the bomb.
As a result of the latest round of talks in Istanbul, the Iranian regime has several more months to continue production of 20 percent enriched uranium at underground facilities with complete impunity while potentially forestalling the implementation of a European oil embargo scheduled to take effect in July.
It is no wonder that Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has called the talks a "step forward." If the history of the negotiations is any guide, the next round of talks will include talking about further talks, ultimately with the Iranian regime taking another "step forward."
In this environment, even the current loose sanctions system that have been hurting the regime in the short term are not strategically detrimental for it, because their real effects are offset by political leniency in the West. A cost-benefit analysis in Tehran would simply argue for pursuing a strategic guarantee for survival, the nuclear bomb.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, the West has other options that better compliment sanctions, the most viable of which is to encourage fundamental change towards democracy by recognizing the Iranian people and their organized opposition as crucial players.
The current strategy of being enamoured with Tehran talking nicely is terribly counterproductive and only serves to embolden the regime. On Tuesday, a military parade was held near Tehran where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again warned the regime's "enemies." According to reports, Iran's army chief Ataollah Salehi said on the same day that his forces see U.S. warships in the Gulf as "sweet targets." That is not progress for a peaceful solution.