The Joint Plan of Action was meant to be so easy for Iran to comply with that it could not possibly run afoul of it. In effect, it was the equivalent of giving a field sobriety test and demanding the suspect count from zero to one. And yet, according to the Institute for Science and International Security, Iran has failed to meet its commitment to convert the low enriched uranium it produced into uranium dioxide, as required:
Under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) Iran was expected to convert all newly produced LEU hexafluoride (LEUF6) into uranium dioxide (LEUO2), in order to ensure that the material was in a less proliferation resistant form and that Iran did not accumulate additional stocks of LEU hexafluoride at the end of the interim period of the JPA. This period has been extended twice so far, with the last period ending on June 30, 2015.The JPA provision is: “Beginning when the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 [uranium dioxide] is ready, Iran has decided to convert to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period [and its extensions], as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA.” However, the IAEA’s recent report on the implementation of JPA shows that only 9 percent of Iran’s stockpile of newly produced LEU hexafluoride has actually been converted into uranium dioxide form.
As The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren points out, Reuters noted:
“When it became clear that Iran could not meet its commitment to convert the LEU into uranium dioxide, the United States revised its criteria for Iran meeting its obligations,” the institute said, adding that the LEU had apparently been converted into a form different from uranium dioxide.” Iran had two requirements under the (interim deal): to end the time period with the same amount of UF6 they began it with, and to convert any excess UF6 produced into an oxide form. They’ve done both,” a senior U.S. official told Reuters. The IAEA did not have an immediate response to a query about its report.
So, when Iran gets caught cheating or, to be more generous, not upholding its commitments, the U.S. negotiators, Obama administration officials, or State Department proxies bend over backwards to exculpate Iran or diminish the significance of its failure to abide by its commitments.
It’s déjà vu all over again. Consider North Korea: In early 1987, analysts suspected that North Korea intended to produce plutonium. Satellites the following year spotted a new structure at Yongbyon, two football fields long and six stories high. It appeared to be a smoking gun. But some intelligence analysts, eager to avoid conflict, suggested the building might be a factory producing something akin to nylon. This was nonsense, but it was enough to inject uncertainty into the debate and avoid offering politicians a cut-and-dried case to establish North Korean cheating. That was under the George H.W. Bush administration, but Clinton would be no more serious. Shortly after Clinton took office, the White House pressured the IAEA to downplay North Korean noncooperation. To describe events accurately might precipitate a crisis. Later, when South Korean President Kim Young Sam told the New York Times that the Dear Leader was simply buying time, the State Department was furious. When he repeated his criticism the following year, Clinton blew his top.
By 1997, there was little doubt that the 1994 Agreed Framework had failed, but diplomats refused to accept the intelligence community’s findings. Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman (and a proponent of the current Iran talks), asserted, “We are absolutely confident . . . that the agreed framework, put in place two and a half years ago is in place, it’s working. We are absolutely clear that North Korea’s nuclear program has been frozen and will remain frozen.” Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, also insisted that the Agreed Framework was on track. Nothing was further from the truth.
In 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that it could no longer verify how North Korea distributed or used its food aid. The communist regime allowed World Food Program monitors to visit only 10 percent of food aid recipients. The North Korean military also blocked access to inspectors. The State Department refused to accept the GAO findings because to accept them would be to admit North Korean cheating and to undermine the premise of the diplomacy in which they had already invested too much. Likewise, when the GAO reported that monitoring of heavy fuel oil had gone awry, the State Department informed Congress that they trusted that the regime’s use of the heavy fuel oil was consistent with the Agreed Framework. Congress did not buy it. Wendy Sherman, a Clinton-era negotiator for North Korea and now the chief negotiator for Obama on Iran privately complained that the problem as that the Pentagon had made standards of compliance too precise. Regardless, the Clinton administration did not need a Senator Bob Corker to let the administration at the time off the hook. Secretary Warren Christopher effectively covered up North Korean noncompliance. He wasn’t the only one. In 2007, Christopher Hill, the point man on North Korean nuclear issues, presented to Congress an artificially rosy picture of the diplomatic process with North Korea, so as not to undercut support for engagement. To this day, the State Department continued to insist that the Agreed Framework was “a concrete success.”
Excusing cheating or non-compliance is a slippery slope. Allow a state to violate an agreement once, and it quickly becomes clear that more pronounced violations would become permissible down the pike. Obama and Kerry may be willing to overlook such violations as minor and easy to ignore, but the past history of negotiations with rogue regimes suggests that what might appear to be a molehill quickly becomes a mountain.