Here are the contours of the deal the Obama administration thinks it might cut this week with the new and improved Islamic Republic of Iran:
- A “modest rollback” of the nuclear weapons program
- Some “suspension” of enrichment at key sites like Natanz and Fordow
- Conversion of uranium enrichment from 20 percent to less usable fuel rods
- No end to plutonium work at the Arak heavy-water reactor
- No concessions on Parchin military complex, where weapons research took place (but that’s the IAEA’s problem, insists the Obama team)
- No agreement to ship abroad fissile material
Key questions for right now? What’s a “modest rollback” exactly? How much “suspension” is suspension? Where the administration once demanded a “freeze,” that’s no longer on the table. Why isn’t the US deal tied to what the IAEA is demanding, ie details on weaponization work? It once was. Why is it now ok to keep fissile material in Iran? Once, the administration insisted it had to go, perhaps to Russia. And what about the second route to a nuclear weapon, ie plutonium and Arak? Now, no deal at all there.
What do the Iranians get in return? Not clear, but Obama will pull out all the stops. He hasn’t got much latitude because of the sanctions rammed down his throat by Congress, but sanctions under IEEPA (The International Emergency Economic Powers Act) are at the president’s discretion. So he could unfreeze certain Iranian assets and potentially nod and wink to foreigners now sitting on Iranian cash to do the same. More importantly for Iran, the full faith and credit of Barack Obama would suddenly be behind them, and letters of credit to which they had no access until now could come unstuck, helping ease the pressure on their economy.
What will the Iranians have given? Nothing. Every single offer reportedly out there from the Iranians is less than what was offered mere months ago in earlier negotiations; in exchange, every concession contemplated by the Obama team is more than what was offered in earlier negotiations. Who’s the better negotiator here? Did you have any doubt?
Let’s deconstruct for a second the technique here: the Obama folk are patting themselves on the back that diplomatic tactics they used with North Korea are working with Iran, namely the “sequencing” of concessions by each side, theoretically building confidence and allowing each side to back out in the case of bad faith. First, let’s assess the value of that process with North Korea: three nuclear tests and nuclear-ready missiles, nuclear plants online, and growing exports to rogue states. That’s good stuff. Second, let’s look at what Iran’s giving: every single step is reversible, every single step will have no meaningful impact on Iran’s capacity to produce a nuclear weapon within weeks or months. There will be no “rollback,” merely a “slow down;” but that slow down is fine with Iran, because it already has EVERYTHING IT NEEDS FOR A NUCLEAR WEAPON, or even several.
How about the “step by step” process that is the new word for “sequencing?” The administration isn’t being clear with Iran about what its bottom line is, because Obama has no bottom line. What was once a demand to end the entire nuclear weapons program has become a demand to make it smaller and hide it better. The Iranians are playing out the string, and won’t agree to anything more substantial down the road, because they’re getting what they need up front. They are well aware that if they hold out long enough (and that’s not too long), Obama will offer them a better deal: more concessions in return for less.
Finally, there’s the question of Iran’s secret nuclear facilities. That’s right, pretty much every western state believes Iran has moved many of its weapons activities somewhere. I have no clue where, but believe the Obama team has some suspicions. Imagine this: the president reports to Congress he has achieved a “rollback” of the Iranian nuclear program, and in turn granted Tehran valuable concessions. But all the while he knew that Iran was progressing actively, elsewhere. He concealed that information from the Congress, our allies and the American people. Incredible? Not really.