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Last week’s U.N. General Assembly session served up reminders that the next White House may have little option but to deal with a number of crises previously deferred

By Tony Karon

A rebel fighter is carried down from a third-story apartment after being wounded by a Syrian government tank shell during a battle between rebels and Syrian army forces in Aleppo on Sept. 26, 2012

1. Despite Netanyahu’s Retreat, Avoiding War with Iran Will Get Harder

For all of his summer saber rattling and efforts to pressure the Obama Administration into stating imminent red lines for war with Iran, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively retreated at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. Despite the familiar apocalyptic rhetoric, Netanyahu took care to signal Israel’s cooperation with the Obama Administration on the issue. More important, he drew his own red line — somewhat confusingly, given the much lampooned graphic on which he relied — at Iran possessing a sufficient stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to reprocess into one bomb’s worth of highly enriched uranium. At present rates of enrichment, he claimed, that point would be reached next spring or summer. Leave aside the considerable body of expert opinion that holds that the U.S. would have a lot more time than Netanyahu suggests to respond to an overt move by Iran to build nuclear weapons, the Israeli leader nonetheless once again wound forward his doomsday alarm clock, setting it to ring sometime early next year.

That seemed to take off the table the threat of an Israeli strike over U.S. objections before November’s election. But the occupant of the Oval Office early next year may face a more acute crisis: sanctions have not so far changed Iran’s nuclear calculations, and such concessions as Iran has offered by way of capping its nuclear work are not ones that the Obama Administration has been ready to accept as a basis for easing sanctions. Iran doesn’t trust the U.S. any more than the U.S. trusts Iran, and Tehran believes the real purpose of the sanctions is to create economic chaos in the hope of provoking an uprising against the regime. Such suspicions will have been heightened by Friday’s U.S. decision to remove the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an exile armed group that fought for Saddam Hussein against Iran in the 1980s and which is widely reviled even among leaders of the opposition Green Movement, from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

And Netanyahu has given notice that he’ll be loudly banging the drum for action by springtime unless, as remains unlikely, Iran effectively throws in the towel on the nuclear standoff before then. Whether it’s President Obama or a President Romney, the White House early next year may face a stark choice between continuing a policy that escalates toward confrontation or trying to avoid one by taking the political risk of initiating a new diplomatic effort with Iran that goes beyond the current nuclear talks. Read more…

As published in www.time.com on October 1, 2012.

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