Daily Telegraph: For the last six months, Iran has studiously ignored President Barack Obama's offer of direct and unconditional talks.
The Daily Telegraph
For the last six months, Iran has studiously ignored President Barack Obama's offer of direct and unconditional talks.
By David Blair, Diplomatic Editor
For the last three years, Tehran's leaders have shunned a proposal that would allow them to build a civil nuclear power programme, complete with trade, investment and technical help from the West.
Despite every appeal and overture, the Islamic Republic has shown not a millimetre of flexibility. Instead, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists with such frequency and vehemence that Iran will continue to enrich uranium – the chief bone of contention with America – that the possibility of retreat looks more remote than ever.
The signs are that Mr Obama is now beginning to contemplate the failure of his overture. Hillary Clinton's words make clear that America's patience carries a time limit and Washington has a range of options if diplomacy fails.
Most dangerously of all, Iran's leaders probably believe that time is on their side. The process of enriching uranium is vital because it could be used to produce the essential material for a nuclear weapon. With every passing month, Iran draws nearer to achieving that capability.
Experts predict that the critical period will probably come in the second half of next year. Without an agreement, Iran will then enter a stage where its regime has the option of making a nuclear weapon. This would not be quick or simple: Iran's leaders would first have to expel the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, who monitor its nuclear plants, and withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty.
They would, in effect, have to tell the entire world they were about to build a bomb. This immensely risky step would invite attack, possibly from America and almost certainly from Israel.
So Iran must still surmount a formidable barrier before it can cross the Rubicon and become a nuclear-armed power. America's central aim has always been to prevent Tehran from ever reaching this critical juncture.
But the window for diplomacy will eventually close, perhaps early next year. Meanwhile, what Mrs Clinton called the "nuclear clock" ticks away relentlessly.