Commentary Magazine


Topic: uranium enrichment

Iran’s Latest Nuclear Gamble Seems Safe

Last week’s nuclear talks between Western negotiators and representatives of Iran concluded on Friday with no discernable sign of progress toward an agreement that would end the standoff over Tehran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. Though sources in Vienna were predicting that the whole point of this latest session and those to follow would be to draft another agreement to follow up on the weak nuclear deal signed last November, the talks yielded no sign that a successful conclusion to the diplomatic effort was anywhere in sight, either before the July deadline or after it. Both sides spoke of large gaps between their respective positions on how much of a nuclear infrastructure Iran will be allowed in the future. With Iran demanding that it be allowed to keep 50,000 functioning centrifuges for enriching uranium—a number that would make a mockery of any safeguards to ensure against a “breakout” to a bomb after the deal is struck—the chances of an accord seem remote unless either side substantially alters their positions.

Those pondering what the next step is for both parties must understand that the interim deal fundamentally altered the dynamic of the negotiations in Iran’s favor. With the sanctions regime weakened, Iran is more confident than ever. Tehran is currently negotiating as if both the potential use of force by the West and the impact of sanctions are not major factors. By standing their ground and refusing to agree to terms that would already give them the chance to build a bomb and insisting on being granted a far larger nuclear infrastructure, the ayatollahs are gambling that the West is bluffing about both the use of force and reinstating, let alone strengthening, sanctions. Given the circumstances, that seems prudent.

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Last week’s nuclear talks between Western negotiators and representatives of Iran concluded on Friday with no discernable sign of progress toward an agreement that would end the standoff over Tehran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. Though sources in Vienna were predicting that the whole point of this latest session and those to follow would be to draft another agreement to follow up on the weak nuclear deal signed last November, the talks yielded no sign that a successful conclusion to the diplomatic effort was anywhere in sight, either before the July deadline or after it. Both sides spoke of large gaps between their respective positions on how much of a nuclear infrastructure Iran will be allowed in the future. With Iran demanding that it be allowed to keep 50,000 functioning centrifuges for enriching uranium—a number that would make a mockery of any safeguards to ensure against a “breakout” to a bomb after the deal is struck—the chances of an accord seem remote unless either side substantially alters their positions.

Those pondering what the next step is for both parties must understand that the interim deal fundamentally altered the dynamic of the negotiations in Iran’s favor. With the sanctions regime weakened, Iran is more confident than ever. Tehran is currently negotiating as if both the potential use of force by the West and the impact of sanctions are not major factors. By standing their ground and refusing to agree to terms that would already give them the chance to build a bomb and insisting on being granted a far larger nuclear infrastructure, the ayatollahs are gambling that the West is bluffing about both the use of force and reinstating, let alone strengthening, sanctions. Given the circumstances, that seems prudent.

It must be understood that what the two sides have been negotiating about in Vienna is not whether the Iranians will have the capacity to build a bomb. That was already substantially conceded in the November interim deal when the West tacitly granted Iran the “right” to enrich uranium. With that point no longer in question and with the Iranians possessing the ability to reactivate their stockpile of nuclear fuel any time they like, the only variable in the bomb equation is how long such a breakout will take. The Obama administration’s goal in the talks is apparently to lengthen the current time for a breakout from a few weeks to a few months. That’s not insubstantial, but it also isn’t anything like a guarantee that Iran won’t get a bomb, especially when you realize that Western intelligence about the nuclear program is, at best, fragmentary.

Any idea that the West could parlay their sanctions or a failed diplomatic initiative into justification for the kind of pressure that could really bring Iran to its knees was thrown away in the interim deal. While the talks are reportedly being conducted in a congenial manner and in English, the negotiators seem to be quite comfortable with the process. But the problem with the West’s position is that no one seriously believes they have any more leverage over Iran. The notion that after the process of loosening sanctions has begun the U.S. can cajole a reluctant Europe to tighten the noose on Iran in the event of a diplomatic breakdown is risible. It can’t and won’t be done and the Iranians know it. Just as important is that Tehran knows President Obama will not order a strike on their nuclear facilities no matter what happens in the talks.

Thus, Iran’s seemingly “unrealistic” position on the centrifuges, as one Western negotiator described it to the New York Times, is actually nothing of the sort. Iran knows the only two possible outcomes of the talks is a breakdown that will let them get to a bomb but won’t produce a devastating response from the West or an agreement that will allow them to get to their nuclear ambition a bit more slowly.

Given the possible impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy as well as the danger from an attack, either from the West or from Israel, that would appear to be quite a gamble. But Iran seems to think that the West is bluffing and that Israel is unlikely to contradict President Obama’s demand that they stand down or is too weak to achieve a military task that perhaps only the U.S. can accomplish.

Since President Obama has already shown that he can sell the American people on the virtues of a weak Iran deal, Tehran figures that he can be pushed harder. Rather than come away from the upcoming rounds of talks with nothing and be forced to confront a foe that he would rather engage, the Iranians are of the opinion that he will give in and give them what they want. That might be a miscalculation that could lead to more suffering from the Iranian people. But this is what happens when tyrants negotiate with a democracy led by a weak leader. Even if Obama comes to his senses now and refuses to provide a diplomatic fig leaf to cover an Iranian arms push, it may be too late to convince Tehran’s leaders that he means business. If Iran is gambling that it can force another weak deal, it is hard to argue with their assessment of Obama. Right now it looks like their gamble is the safest possible bet. 

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Is Obama Signing Away the Last Chance to Stop the Iranian Nuclear Threat?

The Iran nuclear talks resumed in Vienna today with Western negotiators still saying that their goal is to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. But while Secretary of State John Kerry was talking tough when he declared that the Islamist regime faced tough decisions in the talks, now it is the Iranians who are laying down the law. On the eve of the resumption of the P5+1 negotiations, Iran’s Press TV reported that the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi declared, “The U.S. must make tough decisions in negotiations and stop threats and sanctions.” While Washington is acting as if the Iranians are blowing smoke, the initial reports coming out of today’s meetings make it clear that they are not. If, as Reuters reported, the talks have past the exploratory stage and the parties are now preparing to draft an agreement, it may be that the real decisions have already been made.

Since Iran is already signaling that it has refused to reduce the number of its centrifuges enriching uranium–let alone eliminate them and put an end to the nuclear threat–the choice is no longer the one Kerry spoke of after signing a weak interim agreement with Iran last November in which he said no deal was better than a “bad deal.” If the drafting of the next-stage nuclear agreement has indeed begun, then the decision facing President Obama is not between a bad deal and a good one but between a bad one and none at all. Unfortunately, every signal coming out of Vienna, as opposed to the administration spin heard in Washington, must lead to the conclusion that Obama and Kerry believe they can sell an increasingly isolationist and war-weary American public on the virtues of a bad deal in order to put the issue, if not the threat, to rest.

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The Iran nuclear talks resumed in Vienna today with Western negotiators still saying that their goal is to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. But while Secretary of State John Kerry was talking tough when he declared that the Islamist regime faced tough decisions in the talks, now it is the Iranians who are laying down the law. On the eve of the resumption of the P5+1 negotiations, Iran’s Press TV reported that the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi declared, “The U.S. must make tough decisions in negotiations and stop threats and sanctions.” While Washington is acting as if the Iranians are blowing smoke, the initial reports coming out of today’s meetings make it clear that they are not. If, as Reuters reported, the talks have past the exploratory stage and the parties are now preparing to draft an agreement, it may be that the real decisions have already been made.

Since Iran is already signaling that it has refused to reduce the number of its centrifuges enriching uranium–let alone eliminate them and put an end to the nuclear threat–the choice is no longer the one Kerry spoke of after signing a weak interim agreement with Iran last November in which he said no deal was better than a “bad deal.” If the drafting of the next-stage nuclear agreement has indeed begun, then the decision facing President Obama is not between a bad deal and a good one but between a bad one and none at all. Unfortunately, every signal coming out of Vienna, as opposed to the administration spin heard in Washington, must lead to the conclusion that Obama and Kerry believe they can sell an increasingly isolationist and war-weary American public on the virtues of a bad deal in order to put the issue, if not the threat, to rest.

It should be remembered that the president sought reelection in 2012 by promising never to contain a nuclear Iran and to demand that Tehran’s entire program be halted. But in getting the Iranians to return to the table in exchange for loosening economic sanctions, the administration has been slowly backing away from those principled stands. At this point the talks seem to center on a proposed deal that would do nothing more than extend the time the Iranians would have to conduct a nuclear “breakout” and build a bomb in exchange for dismantling sanctions.

While U.S. diplomats have indicated that there are still considerable “gaps” between their position and that of Iran, there is no sign that this disagreement involves an American effort to ensure that the Islamist regime won’t have the capacity to build a bomb anytime it decides it is in its interest to do so.

Obama would like nothing better than to declare victory in the talks and then hope that the Iranians delay their breakout until after he leaves office. But by backing away from demanding an end to enrichment, the U.S. is tacitly endorsing not only Iran’s “right” to create nuclear fuel but leaving it both a stockpile of uranium and the infrastructure by which it could race to a bomb assuming that the ayatollahs even bother to sign the deal that Obama is so desperate to conclude. By leaving their centrifuges in place and by not making them surrender their stockpile of uranium, which could easily be reconverted to weapons use, Tehran’s path to a bomb is not obstructed.

As the negotiators are busy drafting their document, the administration will do its best to shroud the effort in secrecy. But this is exactly the moment when they should be putting their cards on the table. Obama and Kerry already showed that they will exchange tangible concessions on sanctions in exchange for very little in return from Iran and the likelihood is that they will get even less this time while more or less dismantling the economic pressure that created an opportunity for stopping the nuclear threat. With the focus shifting to sanctions on Russia, European support for holding Iran’s feet to the fire is rapidly evaporating.

Once the agreement is drafted, the president will, as he did last November, present the public with a fait accompli and brand anyone who points out the gap between his promises and what the deal delivers as warmongers. If the West is signing away what could be the last chance to prevent a nuclear Iran, then Congress and the American people deserve to know about it before it is already a done deal.

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Kerry Seems to Be Aiming for Bad Iran Deal

Listening to members of the administration talk about Iran’s nuclear program, it’s often difficult to tell quite what kind of timescale they think we’re on. At the beginning of his first term, President Obama gave the impression of having all the time in the world, and he has certainly used enough of it; during the course of which Iran has only lurched increasingly closer to having weapons capabilities. Understandably, countries in the region that are easily within range of a nuclear Iran—particularly Israel and the Sunni Gulf states—are a little more nervous. What is indeed concerning is the way that the administration’s estimates for when Iran could reach breakout capabilities keep on changing, and not for the better.

Secretary of State John Kerry is now saying that the U.S. believes Iran to be two months away from having breakout levels of enriched uranium. Yet, much less than a year ago the administration was claiming that we were at least a year or more away from that point. So either the administration’s estimates are inaccurate and unreliable or in the period since sanctions were partially lifted and negotiations began Iran has massively advanced in its program. Neither possibility will fill America’s allies–or anyone else for that matter–with any confidence about Obama and Kerry’s handling of the Iran threat, which may soon become the Iran crisis.

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Listening to members of the administration talk about Iran’s nuclear program, it’s often difficult to tell quite what kind of timescale they think we’re on. At the beginning of his first term, President Obama gave the impression of having all the time in the world, and he has certainly used enough of it; during the course of which Iran has only lurched increasingly closer to having weapons capabilities. Understandably, countries in the region that are easily within range of a nuclear Iran—particularly Israel and the Sunni Gulf states—are a little more nervous. What is indeed concerning is the way that the administration’s estimates for when Iran could reach breakout capabilities keep on changing, and not for the better.

Secretary of State John Kerry is now saying that the U.S. believes Iran to be two months away from having breakout levels of enriched uranium. Yet, much less than a year ago the administration was claiming that we were at least a year or more away from that point. So either the administration’s estimates are inaccurate and unreliable or in the period since sanctions were partially lifted and negotiations began Iran has massively advanced in its program. Neither possibility will fill America’s allies–or anyone else for that matter–with any confidence about Obama and Kerry’s handling of the Iran threat, which may soon become the Iran crisis.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Secretary Kerry reported the time-period for what he described as “so-called breakout” is “about two months.” Contrast this with the fact that back in October, shortly before the announcement of November’s interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries, Obama claimed that that same breakout point was at least a year or more away. The interim agreement awards Iran partial relief from sanctions in return for Iran agreeing to reduce its enrichment activities and its cooperation with both inspections and negotiations that are supposed to move us towards a final agreement with Iran. So are we to assume that, as had been feared by many, the interim period has allowed Iran a window in which to speed ahead with enrichment? There are only two other alternatives. One is that the administration’s own ability to assess Iran’s progress is dangerously limited, the other is that for political reasons Obama was intentionally underestimating Iran’s progress; most likely to undermine public and Congressional support for tougher action against Iran.

If all of that wasn’t alarming enough, then Kerry’s apparent lack of clarity about his objectives with Iran are all the more so. Obama has already been dropping hints about being “realistic” as far as a final deal is concerned; the implication being that it will be some kind of trade off that won’t definitively end Iran’s nuclear capacities. Time and time again Kerry has claimed that he would prefer no deal to a bad deal, yet speaking before the Senate committee it sounded a lot like a bad deal is precisely what is in the making.

When asked whether a breakout window of up to a year was now the goal of negotiations, the Secretary faltered, as if he had let something slip that he shouldn’t have. “So six months to 12 months is – I’m not saying that’s what we’d settle for, but even that is significantly more,” Kerry responded to the question. It seems that the administration thinks we should be grateful if they manage to drag Iran back to the six month point, half what they claimed we were looking at back in the fall. Kerry makes no commitment as to whether they would settle for that or not, but simply assures us that this is much better than what we have right now. The problem is that with the administration’s margin for error apparently so wide when it comes to these predictions, and with the period of time in play being so narrow, it seems plausible that Iran could cross the threshold to full breakout capabilities before anyone has time to sound the alarm and figure out what to do.

Amidst this latest round of negotiations to end Iran’s illegal nuclear program, this time taking place back in Vienna, Iran celebrated a rather curious national holiday; National Day of Nuclear Technology. During the festivities Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that Iran’s “nuclear achievements are unstoppable.” We live in disconcerting times when the words of Iran’s grand ayatollah are more convincing than those of the secretary of state.   

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Senate Iran Letter Ends Sanctions Fight

Supporters of tough sanctions on Iran hailed the publication of a letter from 83 members of the U.S. Senate to President Obama calling on him to negotiate a deal with the Islamist regime that would preclude any chance that it could gain a nuclear weapon. The letter said that any agreement reached with Iran must deny it the right to uranium enrichment, dismantle its enrichment and nuclear military research facilities as well as its plutonium plant, and be subjected to the kind of inspections that would prevent it from evading detection of violations and receive no further sanctions relief until the other terms are satisfied. AIPAC praised it as an “overwhelming demonstration by the U.S. Senate of its determination to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.”

But those who are dismissing the letter as the last gasp of a once formidable congressional coalition on behalf of sanctions on Iran are right. As the Al Monitor crowed in the headline of its article on the letter, what had happened was not so much a reaffirmation of principle but recognition that Congress had given the president “a window for Iran talks.” The terms laid down in the letter for an Iran nuclear deal are sufficient to stop Tehran. But the amorphous language it employs about what would happen if the agreement the administration produces with Iran falls short of that standard left considerable doubt as to whether failure would result in the passage of the crippling sanctions that the Senate tried but failed to pass earlier this year. Combined with the weaker language of a similar Iran letter signed by 395 members of the House of Representatives, the administration will interpret these developments as a green light to pursue a deal with Iran that will fall considerably short of the standard set in the Senate letter.

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Supporters of tough sanctions on Iran hailed the publication of a letter from 83 members of the U.S. Senate to President Obama calling on him to negotiate a deal with the Islamist regime that would preclude any chance that it could gain a nuclear weapon. The letter said that any agreement reached with Iran must deny it the right to uranium enrichment, dismantle its enrichment and nuclear military research facilities as well as its plutonium plant, and be subjected to the kind of inspections that would prevent it from evading detection of violations and receive no further sanctions relief until the other terms are satisfied. AIPAC praised it as an “overwhelming demonstration by the U.S. Senate of its determination to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.”

But those who are dismissing the letter as the last gasp of a once formidable congressional coalition on behalf of sanctions on Iran are right. As the Al Monitor crowed in the headline of its article on the letter, what had happened was not so much a reaffirmation of principle but recognition that Congress had given the president “a window for Iran talks.” The terms laid down in the letter for an Iran nuclear deal are sufficient to stop Tehran. But the amorphous language it employs about what would happen if the agreement the administration produces with Iran falls short of that standard left considerable doubt as to whether failure would result in the passage of the crippling sanctions that the Senate tried but failed to pass earlier this year. Combined with the weaker language of a similar Iran letter signed by 395 members of the House of Representatives, the administration will interpret these developments as a green light to pursue a deal with Iran that will fall considerably short of the standard set in the Senate letter.

It was no accident that the overwhelming bipartisan turnout for the Senate letter had one significant omission: Majority Leader Harry Reid. While Reid had previously been a stalwart supporter of AIPAC and the pro-Israel community, the majority leader was able to exercise an effective veto on further Iran sanctions legislation this year. Reid’s opposition combined with a threat of a presidential veto of new sanctions on Iran sent many Democrats running for cover, despite the fact that 58 members of the Senate had endorsed the bill.

What happened this year surprised many in the pro-Israel community who assumed that a bipartisan coalition in favor of tougher sanctions on Iran could not be stopped. With Democrat Robert Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, championing the bill and a clear majority of the Senate ready to vote for legislation that had already been passed last year by the House, opponents seemed outgunned.

The new sanctions would have tightened the noose around Iran’s still booming international oil sales, but they would not have gone into effect until the next stage of diplomacy had clearly failed. Yet even that was too much for President Obama, who claimed that even sanctions that were based on a hypothetical would “break faith” with his Iranian partners. The administration, which had fought the sanctions that brought Iran to the table tooth and nail in his first term, wanted nothing that would strengthen the hands of the Western negotiators in the P5+1 talks.

The refusal to even contemplate more sanctions has sent a message to Iran that they have little to fear if they stand their ground in the talks and insist on retaining their nuclear program. The Senate letter won’t change their minds. They already know the president will ignore the Senate’s advice on acceptable terms for a nuclear deal since the interim agreement signed by Secretary of State Kerry last November already flouted those principles by tacitly recognizing an Iranian right to enrichment and beginning the process by which international sanctions will start to unravel. The failure to include language that would ensure that Congress would pass the additional sanctions if the deal fails to meet those standards tells Obama and the Iranians the letter can be safely deposited in the circular file and forgotten.

Those worried about an administration push for diplomacy that seems more like a drive for détente with Iran than an effort to stop their nuclear program should take no comfort from these congressional letters. What has just happened is the end of an important fight that ended in defeat for the forces most concerned with averting the peril of an Iranian bomb. The president has been given all the time he needs to reach a deal with Iran that will keep his promise to halt their nuclear quest. If, as is most likely, he breaks his promise, it will be up to Congress to take up the issue again and not be talked out of doing the right thing by a president who is willing to do anything to avoid accountability on this vital issue.

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Inspections? Kerry’s False Iran Promises

When Secretary of State John Kerry defended the deal he signed with Iran on November 24, he was particularly exasperated with the arguments that asserted that Iran would cheat on its promises to “hit the pause button” on its nuclear program. He said the deal was not only a vital first step in the administration’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but that any fears about Tehran deceiving the West were absurd. Kerry promised its facilities would be subjected to rigorous inspections that exceeded anything that had hitherto been imposed on the country. After nearly two months of further wrangling, that interim accord was finalized yesterday and Iran is now to enjoy substantial sanctions relief during a six-month negotiating period that will give it plenty of opportunities to continue its stalling tactics. But amid the orgy of self-congratulation from the administration on its successful effort to avoid taking tougher action against the nuclear threat, we are also learning more about the inspections Kerry bragged about, and these details give the lie to his assurances.

As the New York Times reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with carrying out the inspections, is glad that the deal will expand its ability to monitor some of Iran’s facilities. But, like the deal itself, the inspections regime turns out to be nothing more than what one nuclear inspector described to the Times as “an appetizer.” While the inspectors will be able to look in on the centrifuges that continue to enrich uranium–a “right” tacitly acknowledged by the West in the deal–it says nothing about the regime’s military research that is necessary for it to complete a bomb. Without such inspections, the notion that the West has any real idea about how close the Iranians are to a bomb is a joke. Far from making it harder for them to achieve their nuclear ambition, the interim accord is, like previous negotiations, enabling the Iranians to go on pursuing it.

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When Secretary of State John Kerry defended the deal he signed with Iran on November 24, he was particularly exasperated with the arguments that asserted that Iran would cheat on its promises to “hit the pause button” on its nuclear program. He said the deal was not only a vital first step in the administration’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but that any fears about Tehran deceiving the West were absurd. Kerry promised its facilities would be subjected to rigorous inspections that exceeded anything that had hitherto been imposed on the country. After nearly two months of further wrangling, that interim accord was finalized yesterday and Iran is now to enjoy substantial sanctions relief during a six-month negotiating period that will give it plenty of opportunities to continue its stalling tactics. But amid the orgy of self-congratulation from the administration on its successful effort to avoid taking tougher action against the nuclear threat, we are also learning more about the inspections Kerry bragged about, and these details give the lie to his assurances.

As the New York Times reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with carrying out the inspections, is glad that the deal will expand its ability to monitor some of Iran’s facilities. But, like the deal itself, the inspections regime turns out to be nothing more than what one nuclear inspector described to the Times as “an appetizer.” While the inspectors will be able to look in on the centrifuges that continue to enrich uranium–a “right” tacitly acknowledged by the West in the deal–it says nothing about the regime’s military research that is necessary for it to complete a bomb. Without such inspections, the notion that the West has any real idea about how close the Iranians are to a bomb is a joke. Far from making it harder for them to achieve their nuclear ambition, the interim accord is, like previous negotiations, enabling the Iranians to go on pursuing it.

The Geneva deal does allow the IAEA to make daily visits to Iran’s enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, an increase over what had previously been allowed. That will permit the West to see if the regime is exceeding the level of enrichment it has been permitted. But even if Iran keeps its word and doesn’t enrich above a level of five percent, all that will achieve is a delay in the period needed for a “breakout” that would get them a bomb. The low-level enriched uranium they are now producing as well as the stockpile they have already acquired can always be converted to weapons-grade material.

But Kerry and other Western leaders already know this. What they and the IAEA don’t know is how far the Iranian bomb research has progressed, and they can only learn this by the kind of inspections that the interim deal won’t provide. As the Times reports:

The agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – meant to buy time for talks on a final settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute – only vaguely refers to the IAEA’s investigation.

It does not, for example, say anything about the U.N. agency’s repeated requests to visit the Parchin military base.

The IAEA suspects that Iran has carried out explosives tests relevant for nuclear bomb development at the facility southeast of Tehran, possibly a decade ago. Iran denies this and has so far refused to open it up for the inspectors.

The watchdog also wants to see other locations, interview officials and study relevant documents for its inquiry into what it calls the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program, known under the acronym PMD.

In other words, Kerry and the rest of the P5+1 group about to resume their diplomatic dance with the Iranians have done nothing to effectively curb research on a bomb even as their enrichment deal does just as little to stop Tehran from stockpiling more nuclear fuel.

The sanctions relief the Iranians are getting during the six-month interim period that, thanks to the delay, actually became an eight-month respite are by no means trivial. While much of the coverage of this aspect of the deal spoke only of the release of frozen assets by the West in the amount of a few billion dollars, the U.S. is also relaxing its efforts to curb Iran’s sale of oil to its remaining customers, a lucrative trade that continues to keep the despotic regime fiscally solvent. The European Union also is suspending some of its sanctions on oil and other exports. While the bulk of the sanctions remain in place, now that the restrictions are starting to unravel there is little likelihood that they can be re-imposed in an atmosphere in which the administration seems bent on pursuing détente with Iran rather than pressure.

Kerry will get the time he wanted to negotiate another nuclear deal with Iran, and thanks to the president’s veto threats and the machinations of Majority Leader Harry Reid that Seth wrote about here earlier, there seems little chance that Congress will be able to heighten the pressure with new sanctions that would not go into effect until after diplomacy fails. But given the lack of inspections on Parchin as well as the Iranians’ track record in pulling the rug over the eyes of credulous Westerners like Kerry, that failure is only a matter of time.

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Enrichment Leaves Iran Path to the Bomb

The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has been adamant in its support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. They believe criticism of the accord reached in Geneva from Israel and Americans who worry the president has thrown away the West’s economic leverage in pursuit of a foolish hope of détente with the Islamist regime is wrong because the deal is a reasonable first step toward ending the threat of a bomb. If America’s policy were actually to achieve that end and conclusively forestall any hope of an Iranian bomb, that establishment consensus will prove to be correct. But unfortunately the indications coming out of Washington make those assumptions look silly.

Though it didn’t make headlines, the confirmation that any follow-up deal with Iran will protect their “right” to enrich uranium is the worst sign that the ultimate conclusion to this story won’t wind up making Obama and his cheerleaders look too smart. The Washington Free Beacon first reported yesterday that the administration was exploring ways to craft a nuclear agreement that would give Iran its own “domestic” enrichment program:

“Over the next six months, we will explore, in practical terms, whether and how Iran might end up with a limited, tightly constrained, and intensively monitored civilian nuclear program, including domestic enrichment,” White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon.

“Any such program,” she said, “would be subject to strict and verifiable curbs on its capacity and stockpiles of enriched uranium for a significant number of years and tied to practical energy needs that will remain minimal for years to come.”

But the problem with the curbs any such deal would put in place is that they could be easily and quickly evaded in any nuclear breakout toward a bomb. By leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and giving them the ability to build up their stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West is relying on monitoring, inspections, and agreements to ensure that won’t happen. But the only way to ensure that it won’t is to insist on Iran dismantling its centrifuges and exporting its hoard of enriched uranium. By not only tacitly acknowledging Iran’s enrichment in the current deal and then also openly saying that it won’t insist on those practical measures in follow-up talks, the administration is dooming any hope that its strategy will achieve the objective of preventing an Islamist nuke.

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The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has been adamant in its support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. They believe criticism of the accord reached in Geneva from Israel and Americans who worry the president has thrown away the West’s economic leverage in pursuit of a foolish hope of détente with the Islamist regime is wrong because the deal is a reasonable first step toward ending the threat of a bomb. If America’s policy were actually to achieve that end and conclusively forestall any hope of an Iranian bomb, that establishment consensus will prove to be correct. But unfortunately the indications coming out of Washington make those assumptions look silly.

Though it didn’t make headlines, the confirmation that any follow-up deal with Iran will protect their “right” to enrich uranium is the worst sign that the ultimate conclusion to this story won’t wind up making Obama and his cheerleaders look too smart. The Washington Free Beacon first reported yesterday that the administration was exploring ways to craft a nuclear agreement that would give Iran its own “domestic” enrichment program:

“Over the next six months, we will explore, in practical terms, whether and how Iran might end up with a limited, tightly constrained, and intensively monitored civilian nuclear program, including domestic enrichment,” White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Caitlin Hayden told the Washington Free Beacon.

“Any such program,” she said, “would be subject to strict and verifiable curbs on its capacity and stockpiles of enriched uranium for a significant number of years and tied to practical energy needs that will remain minimal for years to come.”

But the problem with the curbs any such deal would put in place is that they could be easily and quickly evaded in any nuclear breakout toward a bomb. By leaving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and giving them the ability to build up their stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West is relying on monitoring, inspections, and agreements to ensure that won’t happen. But the only way to ensure that it won’t is to insist on Iran dismantling its centrifuges and exporting its hoard of enriched uranium. By not only tacitly acknowledging Iran’s enrichment in the current deal and then also openly saying that it won’t insist on those practical measures in follow-up talks, the administration is dooming any hope that its strategy will achieve the objective of preventing an Islamist nuke.

Most of the discussion about uranium has focused on the efforts of Western negotiators to get the Iranians to agree not to enrich up to 20 percent or higher, the threshold at which the material becomes suited for military purposes rather than civilian energy production or research. Thus we are told that accords that limit Iranian enrichment to below five percent is the magic bullet that will prevent the nightmare of an Iranian bomb. But what those putting this message out consistently fail to say is that uranium enriched at low levels could be refined to get to the far higher percentage needed for a bomb. While the process to do this is not done in the snap of a finger, such a breakout is not a long-term project. With enough centrifuges—and the Iranians already have enough—it would only take a matter of weeks. The interim agreement President Obama got the Iranians to sign only lengthens that breakout period to a matter of weeks.

What all this means is that if the final agreement that the administration is hoping to get Iran to sign leaves them the ability to keep enriching uranium and the equipment to perform a breakout, the entire concept is based more on trusting the Iranians to keep their promises than anything else. Indeed, with the U.S. stating this openly now, there is no reason for the Iranians not to plan on breaking out whenever they think the time is right.

Perhaps President Obama is hoping that moment will come in 2017 or later when he is safely out of office and can hope to evade the blame for such a disaster. But whenever it happens—and given the importance the ayatollahs have placed on their nuclear quest, in the absence of measures that would actually prevent it, there is no reason to think it won’t eventually happen—there should be no doubt about what led to such a result.

The West entered negotiations with Iran with all the advantages on its side: tough economic sanctions that crippled its economy and a credible military threat from either the U.S. or Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities if the ayatollahs remained obdurate. But instead of using that edge to force the Iranians to dismantle their program, President Obama opted instead to act as if he had no choice but to bow to Iran’s demands. The alternative to appeasement wasn’t war but more pressure on Iran to get an outcome that would end the nuclear threat. Instead the president has chosen to leave the Iranians a path to a weapon in the hope that diplomacy could achieve a genuine détente with a terrorist-sponsoring regime that spews hate and hostility to the West. By agreeing to enrichment, Obama is leaving a loophole a mile wide for the Iranians to push through to a bomb.

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Euros Signal They’re Ready to Appease Iran

Up until now, Iran’s diplomatic charm offensive has focused on getting the West to think differently about the Islamist regime now that it has a new front man. But Tehran’s efforts are about to cut straight to the heart of the dispute that has made it an international pariah. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was readying a new offer about its nuclear program intended to persuade the West to drop or at least to scale back the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. But lest there be much doubt about how gratefully the Iranian proposal will be received in Western Europe, according to a report in Haaretz, French and British diplomats are already telling Israel to be prepared for an interim deal that could give the ayatollahs exactly what they have been asking for all along.

The P5+1 negotiating group, consisting of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, will meet with the Iranians next week in Geneva to receive the Iranian proposal. This group has tried and failed repeatedly to get the Iranians to at least pretend they were interested in a nuclear agreement for years and has consistently failed. But the appearance on the scene of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is enough to convince all the parties, some of which were beginning to concede that the chances of an agreement were remote after the last P5+1 fiasco earlier this year, that a new accord is a real possibility. So long as the discussion was merely about the need for more diplomacy, those in favor of a new round of engagement with the Islamist regime had a strong position. But the decision of the Europeans to tell Israel in advance of the Geneva gathering that an “interim agreement” that could conceivably scale back sanctions may happen is a sign that there is more going on here than just giving diplomacy a last chance. The talk about accepting Iranian promises to cut down on their enrichment of uranium and easing sanctions in return is not merely weakening the West’s negotiating position. It is a clear sign that Rouhani’s outreach efforts are causing the Europeans to adopt a policy of appeasement that may well lead to the realization of a nuclear threat they have long feared.

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Up until now, Iran’s diplomatic charm offensive has focused on getting the West to think differently about the Islamist regime now that it has a new front man. But Tehran’s efforts are about to cut straight to the heart of the dispute that has made it an international pariah. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was readying a new offer about its nuclear program intended to persuade the West to drop or at least to scale back the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. But lest there be much doubt about how gratefully the Iranian proposal will be received in Western Europe, according to a report in Haaretz, French and British diplomats are already telling Israel to be prepared for an interim deal that could give the ayatollahs exactly what they have been asking for all along.

The P5+1 negotiating group, consisting of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, will meet with the Iranians next week in Geneva to receive the Iranian proposal. This group has tried and failed repeatedly to get the Iranians to at least pretend they were interested in a nuclear agreement for years and has consistently failed. But the appearance on the scene of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is enough to convince all the parties, some of which were beginning to concede that the chances of an agreement were remote after the last P5+1 fiasco earlier this year, that a new accord is a real possibility. So long as the discussion was merely about the need for more diplomacy, those in favor of a new round of engagement with the Islamist regime had a strong position. But the decision of the Europeans to tell Israel in advance of the Geneva gathering that an “interim agreement” that could conceivably scale back sanctions may happen is a sign that there is more going on here than just giving diplomacy a last chance. The talk about accepting Iranian promises to cut down on their enrichment of uranium and easing sanctions in return is not merely weakening the West’s negotiating position. It is a clear sign that Rouhani’s outreach efforts are causing the Europeans to adopt a policy of appeasement that may well lead to the realization of a nuclear threat they have long feared.

President Obama and other administration figures have defended the decision to revive the P5+1 talks as merely a case of the West doing its due diligence to see if diplomacy deserved another chance after several years of humiliating failures. In theory, that’s a reasonable point of view. But with European diplomats already warning Israel that their governments are prepared to accept a deal that stops way short of ending all Iranian enrichment of uranium, the effort is taking on the appearance of a decision to back away from pressure on Iran rather than merely a last gasp of diplomacy before sanctions are tightened and the threat of force is contemplated.

The Iranian proposal strikes a familiar chord with those who have been following the farcical series of negotiations with Iran that started more than a decade ago. The Iranians have often talked about accepting limits on how much uranium they could enrich or even about agreeing to transport some of it out of the country only to always renege at the last minute. That was the tactic when Rouhani headed his country’s nuclear negotiating team and he has bragged about his success in hoodwinking the West on the issue.

It is bad enough if President Obama and his European partners allow themselves to be sucked into another dead-end process that could drag on for months if not longer and therefore give Iran another year to get closer to its nuclear goal. But if, as the Euros are signaling, the P5+1 group is prepared to accept a deal that will allow Iran to retain its nuclear capability–albeit with restrictions that will supposedly make it impossible for them to build a bomb–the problem is even bigger than that.

A decision to leave Iran’s nuclear program, and even its enrichment process, in place will be justified as a measure that will still prevent them from getting a bomb. But as the West learned to its sorrow when dealing with a far less powerful or dangerous opponent like North Korea, such agreements can be evaded. Anything less than a complete shutdown of the enrichment process is more or less a guarantee that, like the North Koreans, sooner or later Iran will be able to get its bomb.

Just as serious is the possibility of loosening sanctions in exchange for such unsatisfactory halfway measures.

It should be remembered that it took years for Congress to pressure President Obama into agreeing to and then implementing tough sanctions on Iran as well as years for him to persuade the international community to back watered-down versions of the U.S. sanctions program. Once they are loosened, it will be difficult if not completely impossible for them to be revived. The Europeans have little appetite for this conflict and are desperate to find a way out of it. The same may well be true of President Obama, despite the tough rhetoric he continues to employ against Iran. But even if he doesn’t buy into the Iranian offer, if it results in a breakup of the West’s solid front on Iran, the Iranians may be home free either way.

Neither the president nor the Europeans wish to be accused of waving the white flag on Iran. But neither do they appear to have the will to resist the temptation offered by Rouhani’s PR efforts and to instead keep their promises on Iran. Whether next week’s talks result in a weakening of sanctions in exchange for Iranian lies or merely the wasting of more weeks and months, the scene appears to be set for Western appeasement of the ayatollahs.

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So Much for Diplomacy; Iran Doubles Down on Nuclear Work

In case the West didn’t get the message last week during the latest round of the P5+1 nuclear talks, Iran is making sure President Obama and other leaders understand that they mean what they say about their determination to pursue their nuclear ambitions. Reuters reports that yesterday on what the Islamist regime calls National Nuclear Technology Day, Tehran announced that operations had begun at two uranium mines and a milling plant. If that wasn’t enough to set off alarms in Washington as well as in Jerusalem, the Iranians also made it clear they had no intention of stopping the refinement of high-grade enrichment uranium that could be used for bombs.

Western negotiators had arrived at the talks in Kazakhstan last week hopeful about a positive Iranian response to concessions made at the previous session in February. But when the Iranians ignored the Western proposals—which would have loosened sanctions and allowed them to keep a nuclear program in exchange for stopping uranium enrichment—they were “puzzled.” But the Iranian strategy isn’t much of a mystery. They believe they can continue to stonewall the West by running out the diplomatic clock until they get their bomb.

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In case the West didn’t get the message last week during the latest round of the P5+1 nuclear talks, Iran is making sure President Obama and other leaders understand that they mean what they say about their determination to pursue their nuclear ambitions. Reuters reports that yesterday on what the Islamist regime calls National Nuclear Technology Day, Tehran announced that operations had begun at two uranium mines and a milling plant. If that wasn’t enough to set off alarms in Washington as well as in Jerusalem, the Iranians also made it clear they had no intention of stopping the refinement of high-grade enrichment uranium that could be used for bombs.

Western negotiators had arrived at the talks in Kazakhstan last week hopeful about a positive Iranian response to concessions made at the previous session in February. But when the Iranians ignored the Western proposals—which would have loosened sanctions and allowed them to keep a nuclear program in exchange for stopping uranium enrichment—they were “puzzled.” But the Iranian strategy isn’t much of a mystery. They believe they can continue to stonewall the West by running out the diplomatic clock until they get their bomb.

The commencement of mining at the two new facilities as well as the milling plant won’t mean anything in the short-term rush to produce a weapon, but it shows Iran is in the nuclear business for the long hall. The yellowcake or raw uranium derived from the mines is desperately needed as their supply of material is limited. While Reuters says the uranium at the Saghan and the Ardakan mines is low-grade and expensive, it will nevertheless expand their stores of the mineral in the face of international sanctions that have made it difficult to procure it elsewhere. While these mines cannot supply Iran’s needs indefinitely, they could be enough to keep their program going and keep them relatively self-sufficient until they obtain a small stock of nuclear weapons that would change the strategic equation in the region.

The timing of the announcement is also telling.

By demonstrating that it has no intention of either slowing the refinement of existing stores of uranium at its underground mountain bunker facility at Fordow, as well as by working to keep their centrifuges supplied with yellowcake in the future only days after leaving Western diplomats looking foolish in Almaty, Iran is showing that it isn’t bluffing about persevering in the face of economic sanctions. Moreover, by once again humiliating the West in the talks, the Iranians are also announcing that they don’t take President Obama’s threats seriously about there being a limited window of time for diplomacy to succeed and that all options, including the use of military force, are on the table.

If Iran truly believed the U.S. was prepared to use force to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, they might be seriously negotiating rather than repeating their pattern of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic. While President Obama has been escalating his rhetoric about Iran in the last year as he has ruled out containment as a strategy and vowed repeatedly never to allow it to gain a weapon, he has continued to pursue a diplomatic solution. While experts differ as to whether the a tipping point will be reached in months or a year before it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop the Iranian program, there’s no doubt time is rapidly running out and the P5+1 talks are doing nothing but giving the Iranians confidence that they can indefinitely string out their negotiating partners.

The nuclear day events in Tehran are just one more indication that the moment of truth is fast approaching when the president will be forced to either make good on his vows or implement the same dangerous containment scenarios that he has already said would be too dangerous to contemplate.

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