Where brinkmanship is in the blood of Iranian negotiators, careerism and obsession about legacy appears to be in the blood of their American counterparts. By playing good cop, bad cop with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by quibbling over every understanding previously reached, and by increasingly threatening to walk away, the Iranians appear to be wringing the Americans dry. Obama and Kerry have voided their own red lines, and prepare to normalize an Iranian path to a bomb whenever the Iranian government makes a decision to pursue that option.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is part and parcel of Iran’s brinkmanship. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency in Persian, he declared: “…If they do not fulfill their commitments, the government will be ready to immediately reverse the path in a more severe way than they can ever dream of.”

If Iran’s program has always been peaceful—as repeated Iranian officials have maintained—then reverting to Iran’s previous behavior would mean what exactly?  Threats from Rouhani, the supposed moderate, should get the attention of Congress.

Increasingly, Iran is tripping upon its own internal inconsistencies. First, there was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s (as yet unseen) sacrosanct nuclear fatwa that forbids nuclear weaponry and yet the Iranian leadership refuses to come clean on past nuclear work for fear it would show nuclear weaponry work. There has also been Iran’s insistence that it seeks a completely indigenous program, yet it doesn’t possess enough natural uranium to fuel an expanded civilian energy program. Now, Rouhani has more or less threatened to build a nuclear bomb, the same threat made previously by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a number of clerical associates of Khamenei himself. On May 29, 2005, for example, Hojjat ol-Islam Gholam Reza Hasani, the Supreme Leader’s representative in the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan, declared possession of nuclear weapons to be one of Iran’s top goals. “An atom bomb …must be produced as well,” he said.

Obama, Kerry, and negotiator Wendy Sherman have effectively become Iran’s lawyers. In doing so, they have applied the logic of “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” to U.S. national security. All one has to do, however, is look at the thinly veiled threats and logical somersaults of Iran’s top leaders, however, to understand just what a capability Tehran is after.

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