The current UN General Assembly session has shown that many nations, including Security Council members, do not believe sanctions can prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, according to David Harris of the American Jewish Committee.
AJC's executive director, Harris is an expert on diplomacy and its effect on Jewish causes.
Nevertheless, the world is moving toward ever stiffer sanctions on Iran and ever more resolute opposition to its nuclear program, Harris told The Jerusalem Post last week. "In many countries, there is a school of thought that says there's more time to deal with Iran than what the 'alarmists' - us - are saying. And, since many countries just don't believe sanctions will work, they wonder why they should suffer [economically] for these sanctions," he said.
Are these countries resigned to living with an Iranian bomb?
"Nobody is talking about that," Harris said, "but governments are discussing [a proposed] 'grand bargain' with America, according to which Iran is seeking security guarantees from the US that it won't work for regime change and to secure Iran's regional position."
According to this thinking, "a fairly strongly-held view among the inner circle of key countries, all the contentious issues around Iran involve the US, and lowering the [diplomatic] temperature requires [US] engagement with Iran," he said.
Harris believes the Islamic Republic is trying to delay serious decisions until January 2009, when a new, possibly Democratic, American administration is sworn in "that, according to [Teheran's] perspective, would take a less aggressive approach toward Iran."
But Harris believes this strategy will not work, since Democrats and Republicans do not differ in their perception of the danger from Iran. Even Howard Dean, "as Democratic Party spokesman in the 2004 elections, has said that [President George W.] Bush made a mistake [in invading] Iraq, because Iran was the greater danger."
Still, the AJC sees a shift toward a more aggressive stance to Teheran by several key countries.
American Jewish Committee representatives are currently meeting with dozens of national leaders on the sidelines of the General Assembly session in New York, to express concern over the failure to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
"We sense a waking-up in Europe to the fact that tough calls have to be made," he said, adding, "We will know more when all the meetings are through."
"It's interesting to note that France in particular has said it wants to focus on a parallel track of European measures [against Iran], showing the growing impatience of [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy. There's growing awareness in European countries that the pace of sanctions is not keeping up with Iranian nuclear armament. Those Europeans worried about the [Iranian] nuclear option understand that if they don't get tough they may be contributing to stark choices" for the US administration, Harris said.
According to Anti-Defamation League national director Abe Foxman, the media focus on the Iran issue in New York reflected the close scrutiny the matter had garnered among the world's top diplomats behind closed doors.
"The circus at the UN, the public speeches and the theatrics at Columbia [University] aren't that important," Foxman said, "but Iran topped the agenda in bilateral and regional meetings among most of the serious countries. To quote the prime minister of Italy, 'A nuclear Iran is the most important issue on our agenda.' I walk away from the first week [of the General Assembly session] with the feeling that there's serious progress toward a third level of sanctions to be enacted in October."
Foxman noted in particular the "encouraging" discussions among European diplomats over the France- and UK-initiated drive to create a parallel sanctions regime in the EU.
Foxman, like Harris, said that America's aggressive stance against the Iranian nuclear program would persist even if Democrats took the White House in 2008. "The more disagreement there is between the candidates and parties on Iraq, the greater the consensus on Iran. The Democrats are saying, 'Let's disentangle from Iraq so we can better deal with preventing a nuclear Iran.'"