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Obama aide Axelrod fudges Dec. 31 deadline for Iran on nuclear weapons

December 20, 2009 |  1:18 pm

Iran's head Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

During the presidential primary campaigns, then-freshman-Democrat Sen. Barack Obama let it be known in one debate that he wouldn't mind unilaterally bombing the U.S. ally Pakistan if it wasn't sufficiently cooperating in the fight against terrorists, especially in its wild northwestern tribal areas.There were widespread gasps.

The neophyte presidential campaigner, who had long opposed the war in Iraq, was trying to build his national-security/foreign-policy chops on the international scene.

During the general election campaign, however, Obama made much of his willingness to engage rogue regimes such as Iran with less threatening and more talking without preconditions, such as with its head, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The U.S. president, in fact, won a Nobel Peace Prize based significantly on the hope this change represented in the international community.

Critics said years of talking had produced no significant progress so more seemed unlikely to suddenly be different and that the wannabe U.S. president would be played by such governments talking and talking but stalling for time to build, say, a nuclear weapon.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Israel, whose annihilation Ahmadinejad has vowed to ensure despite the Israelis having their own nukes, is believed to be making its own defensive/An Iranian missileoffensive plans while giving Obama an unspecified time to produce results through words, not weapons.

Despite numerous Obama overtures -- from his inviting Iranian diplomats to July 4 embassy parties to delaying and hedging the White House denunciation of Iran's deadly crackdown on democracy protesters earlier this year -- Ahmadinejad has shown no signs of compliance or interest. Indeed, Iran mocked Obama's greetings message on that country's recent religious holiday.

Obama has long proclaimed a Dec. 31 deadline for cooperation or retaliation of some unspecified kind. But Iran and, before it, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, has confidently counted on years of international dithering on enforcing printed sanctions.

So naturally on ABC's "This Week" this week, George Stephanopoulos asked Obama adviser and ex-newspaper reporter David Axelrod about the approaching Obama deadline.

Axelrod started to say something about talking but checked himself and spoke instead of "consequences."

But, as often occurs in diplomatic-speak -- and politics-speak too, come to think of it -- it's what you don't say that's often more important than what you do utter.

Axelrod declined to reiterate the Dec. 31 date. Here's the exchange. Draw your own conclusions:

STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question on Iran. The Times of London reported earlier this week that they had obtained intelligence documents showing that Iran had been working on a nuclear trigger.

This has been looked at by Western intelligence agencies as well and, if authentic, the most significant evidence yet that Iran has a nuclear weapons program....

AXELROD: Listen, nobody has any illusions about what the intent of the Iranian government is. 

And we've given them an opportunity to prove otherwise by allowing them to ship their nuclear material out to be reprocessed for peaceful use. And they have passed on that deal so far.  And the international community is going to have to deal with that if they don't change their minds. (CROSSTALK)

AXELROD:  ... we'll see about that, because there seems to be division within their government. Understand, George, what's happened. When we came to office, Iran was united and the world was divided in an approach to deal with Iran.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But bottom line is, if they don't turn it around by Dec. 31, sanctions will come?

AXELROD: Well, we're talking -- plainly, there are going to be consequences if they don't turn around.

(UPDATE: Vice President Joe Biden, who admits being a senator when Barack Obama was only 11 years old, has come out in support of his boss' healthcare plans. In an op-ed article in a similarly-named newspaper here, Biden admits that if he was still a senator, he would vote in favor of the Harry Reid-written measure. This is Biden's second op-ed in the same newspaper in five months, raising speculation he's auditioning there as a columnist to replace Bill Kristol.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press