A question hanging in the air during President Obama’s time in office has been: does he want to prevent Iran from ever getting nuclear weapons, or does he simply want to forestall their nuclear capability until he’s out of office? Obama’s supporters insisted it was the former. Their faith in him is getting yet another test, with the latest report on the two sides mulling a deal that would be quite favorable to Iran.
The Associated Press reports that with time winding down in this overtime period, American and Iranian negotiators are considering how to allow the American side to fold while saving face:
With time for negotiations running short, the U.S and Iran are discussing a compromise that would let Iran keep much of its uranium-enriching technology but reduce its potential to make nuclear weapons, two diplomats tell The Associated Press.
Such a compromise could break the decade-long deadlock on attempts to limit Iranian activities that could be used to make such arms: Tehran refuses to meet U.S.-led demands for deep cuts in the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, a process that can create material for anything from chemotherapy to the core of an atomic bomb.
Experts warn that any reduction in centrifuge efficiency is reversible more quickly than a straight decrease in the number of machines, an argument that could be seized upon by powerful critics of the talks in the U.S. Congress.
This is the reason opponents of a nuclear Iran have been increasingly frustrated with the White House. Their timeline is configured to estimate when Iran would attain nuclear capability; the president’s timeline, however, has a fixed end date: the day after his last day in office.
It’s worth recalling at this point the last time the president’s negotiating team floated a cloaked surrender. In September, the two sides were stuck on the same dealbreaker: Iran wants to keep its centrifuges. So how do you enable Iran to keep its centrifuges while still offering substantial resistance to Iranian nuclear development, especially after legitimizing their right to enrich? The answer is: you don’t. Which raised the next question: What if you’re an American president who wants to be able to claim you set back Iran’s nuclear quest without actually having done so, and without removing the centrifuges? Call in the plumber, as the New York Times had revealed:
The idea is to convince the Iranians to take away many of the pipes that connect their nuclear centrifuges, the giant machines that are connected together in a maze that allows uranium fuel to move from one machine to another, getting enriched along the way. That way, the Iranians could claim they have not given in to Western demands that they eliminate all but a token number of their 19,000 machines, in which Iran has invested billions of dollars and tremendous national pride.
As our Jonathan Tobin wrote at the time, the pipe proposal showed that “the U.S. has been on a path of constant retreat” throughout the negotiations. It was not a serious idea, and it was not treated as such except by the Obama administration.
Now we have a new proposal–if the AP story is right:
According to the diplomats, the proposal could leave running most of the nearly 10,000 centrifuges Iran is operating but reconfigure them to reduce the amount of enriched uranium they produce.
One of the diplomats said the deal could include other limitations to ensure that Tehran’s program is kept in check.
For one, Iran would be allowed to store only a specific amount of uranium gas, which is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. The amount of gas would depend on the number of centrifuges it keeps.
Second, Iran would commit to shipping out most of the enriched uranium it produces, leaving it without enough to make a bomb. Iran denies any interest in nuclear weapons and says its program is for peaceful uses such as nuclear power and medical technology.
But note that those two “limitations” are not even necessarily part of the deal. So we’re left with an easily reversible timewaster.
But even just the proposal of such an idea is a major concession to the Iranians. That’s because without having to agree to any serious deal, the Iranians have already succeeded in getting the Obama administration to recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich as well as allowing that a deal does not require Iran to give up its centrifuges. So they have a right to keep their centrifuges and a right to enrich.
The terms of the debate, in other words, have favored Iran all along. And the danger in each new proposal is not that the Iranians will accept it. Why would they, after all, when Obama is opposing new sanctions on them and the longer they wait the better the terms they’re offered? The concern, really, is that the Obama administration continues to legitimize major pieces of Iran’s nuclear quest. Pretty soon, there won’t be much left to negotiate over.