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Iran missile test: glimpse of what's ahead if nuclear talks fail

An Iran missile test Monday sent a clear warning to the US: Attack our nuclear facilities, and we'll target your military bases. It showed what US-Iran military gamesmanship might look like. 

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“What the West has decided here is that the punitive track is the only way to get the Iranians to respond,” says George Lopez, an expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in the use of economic sanctions. “But I’m not sure that’s a certainty.”

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One thing that could get in the way is the US presidential election, Professor Lopez says.

The latest sanctions “are going to make the Iranian economy scream within about three to four months,” he says.

Given that, and the parameters of a potential deal on Iran’s uranium enrichment that have surfaced in recent negotiations, he says there would be reason “in a neutral political environment” to consider at least an interim agreement possible by this fall.

But a tight US presidential race makes a deal less likely, in part because both sides would have to accept some concessions, he adds: “The Obama camp knows very well that anything that could be construed as a concession to Iran would be seized by [presumptive Republican nominee Mitt] Romney and his people as a sign of Obama’s weakness and failure to protect Israel.”

Lopez insists that sanctions can work, citing how sanctions brought Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table and prevented Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from acquiring the weapons of mass destruction he coveted.

Iranian leaders have started to focus their public commentary on how the measures are having their greatest impact on the Iranian people, and the West must be prepared to respond, Lopez says. 

“This round [of sanctions] crosses the line and looks more like the broad sanctions à la Iraq than the targeted sanctions [the West] has always said it was imposing,” he adds. 

The missile exercises send a different message. Iranian military say the games will target mock bases modeled after those of “adventurous nations” that have military bases in the region. That seems a clear warning to the US, which maintains military facilities within range of Iran’s missiles in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

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