Iran’s theocratic dictatorship once again has thrown up an obstacle to diplomatic resolution of the nuclear stalemate. The New York Times today reported that Iran has rejected the U.S-conceived, U.N.-backed plan for temporarily easing tensions over Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program. After initially reaching an “agreement in principle” to export roughly 70 percent of its known supplies of low-enriched uranium, Tehran once again has backed away from the P5&1 proposal and instead has presented a counter-proposal (details yet to be revealed) that is sure to fall short of what is necessary to relieve international concerns over its illicit nuclear efforts.

One frustrated diplomat involved in the nuclear talks with the Iranians was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: “It’s like playing chess with a monkey. You get them to checkmate, and then they swallow the king.”

But Iran, which claims to have invented the game of chess, should not be underestimated. It is outsmarting the western diplomats that it is negotiating with by stretching out the negotiations while it continues to enrich uranium. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has trumpeted the negotiations as a victory for Iran over western adversaries. In a speech yesterday he proclaimed: “Once they told us to stop [nuclear work]. Now they express readiness to cooperate with us in exchange of fuel, expansion of the technology and construction of power plants and atomic reactors.”

Iran also probably still has nuclear chess pieces hidden under the table that it will reveal triumphantly at the end of the game. At that point, with a nuclear weapon in hand, Tehran will declare checkmate – or in Farsi: “shah mat” (“the king is ambushed” or “helpless”).

For more on Iran, see: Iran Briefing Room