What better way to show an enemy that nuclear proliferation isn’t in their interest than by … ceding a crucial regional battlefield to them in hopes of getting them to play nice on nukes?

Hello?

President Barack Obama’s reluctance to give military aid to Syrian rebels may be explained, in part, in three words: Iranian nuclear weapons…

“I think that the United States has not taken a more active role in Syria from the beginning because they didn’t want to disturb the possibility, to give them space, to negotiate with Iran,” Javier Solana, the former European Union foreign policy chief, said Monday at a Brookings Institution discussion about this week’s talks. Solana, who was a top negotiator with Tehran in the nuclear program until 2009, added, “They probably knew that getting very engaged against Assad, engaged even militarily, could contribute to a break in the potential negotiations with Tehran.”…

“Since we are now looking more at a pending regime collapse in Damascus that has a strong potential to turn it into a launch pad for transnational jihadism, Washington is more interested in a negotiated settlement, which involves talking to Iran,” said Kamran Bokhari, a Toronto-based expert on Mideast issues for the global intelligence company Stratfor.

At Via Meadia, Walter Russell Mead drops the A-bomb on O:

There are plenty of good reasons to fight shy of involvement in Syria; trying to get on Iran’s good side by letting Assad murder his people with impunity isn’t one of them. It’s a grotesquely immoral sacrifice of the innocent on the altar of a terrible policy idea. Trying to please the mullahs by giving them their way in Syria would be like trying to quiet Adolf Hitler by giving him the Sudetenland. It would be appeasement, and it would be as dishonorable as it is futile.

Here’s the problem: the calculation the mullahs are making is whether or not, when President Obama tells them that there will be war if they don’t give up on their nuke plans, he really Means It. If they think he’s bluffing, if they think he is either unable or unwilling to compel them to comply, there is no reason on earth for them to give way. The mullahs don’t like President Obama, they don’t trust him, and they want to break his power and his policy in the Middle East…

To the Iranians this hands-off Syria policy, combined with the defense cuts, combined with the retreat from engagement with Iraq, combined with the reversal of course and the dash for the exit in Afghanistan, would amount to clear proof that Obama is as Chamberlainesque as they come: attempting to smooth the reality of inexorable decline with empty, pretty treaties.

If the AP report is accurate, says Mead, this is Obama’s Green Revolution failure “on steroids.” The question here, obviously, is whether U.S. intervention in Syria would make Iran more or less likely to keep going with the bomb. If you knock out their top proxy, Assad, which in turn badly weakens their other key proxy, Hezbollah, does that damage their strategic position in the region badly enough that then they’ll have no choice but to make nice on nukes? There’s some reason to think so: WaPo reported in 2006 that Iran reached out to the U.S. with an offer of dialogue, including cooperation on nukes, shortly after the invasion of Iraq. Bush ignored it in the hope/expectation that the regime was ready to collapse, which meant that any engagement from the U.S. might inadvertently rescue the mullahs at the eleventh hour. Syria’s an opportunity in theory to run that play again, arguably under even more favorable circumstances. The regime’s more isolated internationally via sanctions than it was in 2003; eliminating Assad would remove a key Iranian asset rather than a key Iranian enemy in Saddam; and the rise of Sunni Islamists regionally after the Arab Spring might make Iran a little more paranoid about its position. (Or less. Iran’s gotten along just fine with Hamas for years.) But they’re also 10 years further down the road in investing in their nuke program — possibly up to $100 billion by now, with endless opportunity costs in the energy sector on top of that — so there’s no way to give up on at this point without a potentially catastrophic loss of face at home. Plus, what message is sent if the U.S. and EU decide they’ll intervene in Syria but only up to a point (i.e. no boots on the ground)? If, say, a no-fly zone is imposed and Assad holds on, then you have the worst of both worlds — western servicemen in harm’s way and a lesson to Iran that U.S./EU resolve in accomplishing their aims militarily only goes so far.

In fairness to O, he might be holding the prospect of intervention over Iran’s head privately. There are new reports every week seemingly of covert, non-military aid to Syria’s rebels; even if Tehran’s not being threatened explicitly, they must worry on some level that further escalation’s coming if they don’t at least pretend to be interested in nuke negotiations. What I want to know is, has Obama given them a firm deadline? Or is he prepared to be strung along for months more, hoping against hope that Assad collapses sooner rather than later and that that strengthens the west’s hand at the bargaining table?