When is a red line not a red line? Usually when nations start approaching it. That’s when red can suddenly start looking more like salmon or dusty rose. After the failure of talks in Kazakhstan between Iran and the P5+1 group aimed at containing Tehran’s nuclear-weapons pursuit, an influential Israeli Cabinet minister demanded military action “in a few weeks” unless Iran complied with the UN non-proliferation agreement:
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz called on world powers on Sunday to set a deadline for military action of weeks to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program after talks ended without progress at the weekend.
World powers and Iran failed again to end a deadlock in the decade-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program during the meeting in Kazakhstan, prolonging a standoff that could yet spiral into a new Middle East war.
“Sanctions are not enough and the talks are not enough. The time has come to place before the Iranians a military threat or a form of red line, an unequivocal red line by the entire world, by the United States and the West … in order to get results,” Steinitz said.
Steinitz, a close confidant of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, told Army Radio action should be taken within “a few weeks, a month” if Iran did not stop enriching uranium, although he did not elaborate.
As Reuters reminds readers, Netanyahu himself once drew a red line across the middle of 2013, so this is not exactly a minister wandering off a reservation. Reuters also says that its sources within the government tell them that this red line had been “deferred, maybe indefinitely.” Call this line more of a grenadine, then — unless this signals that the deferral itself has been deferred.
If that’s the case, though, Israel’s main military and diplomatic ally isn’t on board with immediate action. US Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged everyone to return to the bargaining table during a visit to Turkey, although he warned that this could not be “an interminable process”:
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday major powers would continue talks with Iran to resolve a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, but stressed the process could not continue for ever.
“This is not an interminable process,” said Kerry as he arrived in Istanbul on Sunday on the first leg of a 10-day trip to the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
He said US President Barack Obama was committed to continuing the diplomatic process despite what he called the complicating factor of Iranian elections in June.
“Diplomacy is a painful task,” he said. “And a task for the patient.”
The negotiations ended in Kazakhstan without any agreement even to meet again, which means that this task requires a lot more patience than most. In this case, though, “patience” means giving Iran time to finish its work on a nuclear weapon, and so present the West with a fait accompli. At that point, diplomacy will be superfluous, as Tehran’s mullahs have plans for these weapons — which is why Steinitz wants a red line drawn now, and not a dishy coral line sometime in the ambiguous future.