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What’s the next step in our confrontation with Iran?

We've been in the midst of the same confusing standoff for the last seven years

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I enjoy writing columns, but am nevertheless occasionally frustrated by the inherent limitations of written words.

Every couple of months, I think an audio recording of someone sighing in frustration, a video of someone pounding his head against a desk, or a photo of someone with her face buried in her hands would just as fully explain a foreign affairs conundrum as, say, actual words.

That's how I feel this week about the ongoing political confrontation between Iran and the United States – same crap, different month.

Sure, the details change, but we've essentially been in the midst of a frightening, confusing standoff since 2003. That's the year the International Atomic Energy Agency castigated Iran for failing to disclose all of its nuclear activities and materials, as Iran is required to do under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Ever since then, we've been stuck at the same point asking the same questions: Is Iran actually developing a nuclear weapon? If yes, when will it be armed and ready? Can the U.S. convince the European Union, China, Russia and the United Nations to put the squeeze on Iran until it gives up its nuclear fuel enrichment program? Will the U.S. attack Iran to slow its nuclear progress? Will Israel attack Iran to slow its nuclear progress?

If you give me a second, I'd like to pound my fists on the keyboard for a second.

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That felt good. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. Same crap for seven years. With the U.S. about to convince the U.N. Security Council to impose a fourth set of sanctions on Iran, Iran suddenly agreed to a deal, brokered by Brazil and Turkey, to ship most of its enriched uranium outside the country, where it would be processed into un-weaponizable fuel rods before being returned. Are the Mullahs blinking under pressure, or stalling for time? My semi-educated guess is the latter.

Those of you with excellent memory may recall that the U.S. pushed for an almost identical deal last fall. At the time, Iran refused. This time, it's the U.S. refusing. Without saying the words, the Obama administration's response has been that Iran is offering too little, too late. The window for that particular deal clearly closed a few months ago.

Right now, what we're seeing is a slight shift in Obama's carrot-and-stick approach to Iran. At the same time Obama has been making diplomatic overtures to Iran, the president was uniting U.S. friends and frenemies against Iran just in case diplomacy didn't work. Obama's foreign policy to Iran seems to be this: We'll try to be nicer to you than Bush was, but only if you reciprocate. If you ignore our overtures, we'll be meaner to you than Bush was. We're actually more capable of uniting the world against you than Bush was, in part because the world just saw you rebuff our overtures.

So look for another round of U.N. sanctions against Iran in coming weeks. Will sanctions convince Iran to give up its nuclear fuel enrichment program? Don't be silly. Of course it won't. Sanctions, schmanctions. Iran has been living with economic sanctions for three decades. They haven't worked yet, have they? Sure, they make life difficult for regular Iranians, but clearly nothing we've done has helped loosen the Mullahs' grip on Iran's metaphorical levers of power.

The world is addicted to fossil fuels. Iran has lots of them. Developed nations will never stop buying it. We can talk tough all day long and try to disrupt their trade with sanctions, but we're supporting them through our addiction to oil. Sanctions against Iran are as futile as a drug war.

Nevertheless, the sanctions are probably necessary if we're going to reach a diplomatic settlement. The carrot-and-stick approach only works if the stick can inflict damage. Iran jerked us around a bit, so we have to sharpen the stick. That's just the way it is. After the new sanctions take hold, we'll probably pursue yet another diplomatic overture. And I'll write another column about the same crap.

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