To hear the White House tell it, our nagging Iranian problem might soon be a thing of the past. As the March deadline for nuclear negotiations nears, administration officials and sympathetic onlookers have become increasingly optimistic about an impending breakthrough with the Islamic Republic over its atomic ambitions.
The American public, however, isn't nearly so sure. Those are the conclusions of a new survey on global threats from the Gallup organization. The poll, carried out in early February, found that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents viewed Iran's development of a nuclear capability as a "critical threat" to American security. (Another 16 percent of those polled ranked the issue as "important but not critical.")
In fact, Iran's nuclear program ranked third among all threats listed by respondents, behind the Islamic State terrorist group and global terrorism, but ahead of North Korean aggression and Russian imperialism in Ukraine and the "post-Soviet space." That ranking is particularly striking because the Obama administration has devoted enormous time and effort in recent months to convince the public that its diplomatic efforts will successfully address Iran's nuclear ambitions. Apparently, however, ordinary Americans aren't persuaded.
There's good reason for their skepticism. After more than a year of diplomatic talks, the Iranian nuclear problem appears as intractable as ever. Indeed, despite the administration's rosy pronouncements, the P5+1 nations and Iran still remain far apart on a range of substantive issues.
Most recently, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran still refuses to answer questions about its previous weapons-related nuclear work. In its latest report to the United Nations Security Council, the Agency outlined that it "remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."
Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that some progress has indeed been made – at least as far as Iran is concerned. Since the start of negotiations in November of 2013, Washington and its diplomatic partners in Beijing, Moscow, Paris, London, and Berlin have progressively scaled back their demands on the Islamic Republic.
In hopes of a compromise, they have suggested that Iran might simply unplug its arrays of uranium enrichment centrifuges, rather than dismantle them completely as originally envisioned. They have opted to exclude Iran's ballistic missiles – a key means of delivery for any nuclear device – from the negotiations altogether. And they have failed to force Iran to comprehensively reduce its stocks of low enriched uranium.
In fact, Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear development. Last week, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani told reporters that his government had made "highly important progress" on nuclear-related science and technology advancements, and that as a result the Iranian regime's atomic effort was now "running at a higher speed."
This puts the lie to President Obama's claim, made during his State of the Union address last month, that his administration has successfully "halted the progress of [Iran's] nuclear program." It is also not the approach originally envisioned by America's allies. As Israel's minister of intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, recently explained to the Washington Post, "we thought the goal should be to get rid of the Iranian nuclear threat, not verify or inspect it."
So, apparently, did many others. The latest Gallup figures reflect a deep-seated and persistent worry among Americans that the Obama administration's impending nuclear compromise with Tehran will do little to eliminate the Iranian regime's nuclear potential – or the threat that it poses to the United States. As such, they should sound a cautionary note for an Administration that appears all too eager to "get to yes" with Iran's ayatollahs, and which assumes that it has the imprimatur of its electorate to do so by any means necessary.