Because, as IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei might put it, that couldn’t be more opposite from the previous U.S. approach to Iran’s nuclear program:

“It was a ridiculous approach,” he insisted. “They thought that if you threatened enough and pounded the table and sent Cheney off to act like Darth Vader the Iranians would just stop,” Dr. ElBaradei said, shaking his head. “If the goal was to make sure that Iran would not have the knowledge and the capability to manufacture nuclear fuel, we had a policy that was a total failure.”

(ElBaradei, it seems, is fond of the comparison.) Toward the end of its term, of course, the Bush Administration had replaced this Khruschev-Vader hybrid table-pounding strategy with the Obi Wan Kenobi-esque diplomacy cred that the State Department’s number three official, Bill Burns, brought to meetings with the Iranians. But the important factor here is not who the Obama Administration sends, but how it conducts policy. And instead of the non-starter of insisting that Iran shut down all enrichment activities entirely — the only thing that this tactic started was, conspicuously, Iranian enrichment activities — the new approach, quite sensibly, recognizes that spinning centrifuges look much better when there’s parallel movement toward a compromise, rather than just acceleration toward a nuclear weapon.

And I don’t quite grasp the physics of it, but apparently there’s a way to keep the centrifuges “spinning, but not producing new enriched uranium, akin to leaving a car running, but in park.” Okay, a Death Star in park may still be a Death Star, but if it’s simply a matter of satiating Iranian pride, any way of getting Tehran to the table, and achieving an acceptable compromise, will be a hell of a Jedi mind trick.

(image from flickr user parl under a Creative Commons license)

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