You don’t have to be an Israeli spy to know what’s going on at the nuclear talks between Iran and the West at Lausanne, Switzerland. As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, the Iranians were holding their ground on yet another key point in the negotiations and, to no one’s surprise, the Obama administration is preparing to give in to them again. This time the issue is Iran’s refusal to open its facilities up to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors eager to see how much progress they’ve made on military research for the nuclear program. But instead of threatening to walk away from a process that appears on track to ending sanctions on the Islamist regime over this key point, the administration is preparing to amend the current draft of the deal to allow the Iranians several years’ leeway before they’d be required to give a full reckoning about how close they are to a bomb. What this amounts to is the West waving the white flag on effective verification of Iran’s nuclear activities. And that means that not only will Iran be able to cheat their way to a bomb, but they may very well get there even while observing the agreement that is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.
As the Journal reports:
Iran’s refusal to implement the IAEA work plan threatens to undermine the prospects for this comprehensive agreement, say diplomats involved in the talks. The ability of the IAEA and global powers to verify whether Iran is abiding by any future deal to prevent it from racing to develop a nuclear weapon depends, in part, on an understanding of its past work, according to these officials.
But rather than press the Iranians to comply with IAEA demands, American negotiators came up with what they are calling a compromise that falls far short of providing complete accountability about their work to build a bomb:
Under the new plan, Tehran wouldn’t be expected to immediately clarify all the outstanding questions raised by the IAEA in a 2011 report on Iran’s alleged secretive work. A full reckoning of Iran’s past activities would be demanded in later years as part of a nuclear deal that is expected to last at least 15 years.
The delay will be sold by the administration as a clever strategy to bridge one more seemingly intractable difference between the parties enabling the president to claim a foreign-policy triumph. But this is no minor detail. While most of the attention in the nuclear talks has always been on Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium and therefore build a stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West’s lack of knowledge about Iran’s military research is key to any understanding of how close they might or might not be to building a weapon. Without a grasp of where they are in that process, all attempts at verification will be without an effective baseline.
Moreover, a delay of this sort makes any effort to get the information meaningless because by the time that the Iranians will be required, at least in theory, to open up their facilities to the IAEA, it will be years after sanctions will have been lifted. So even if they don’t comply on time, it will be difficult, if not impossible to call off the deal or re-impose sanctions on what the Europeans or perhaps a Hillary Clinton administration (if the Democrats hold onto the White House next year) will consider a technicality.
IAEA head Yukio Amano has made it clear that he has made “no progress” in his efforts to find out more about the Iranian program. But that has not stopped American negotiators from plowing ahead as if this was irrelevant to their quest. According to the Journal, the French, who have showed a bit more backbone in the process than the Americans, have also raised questions and put more demands on the Iranians. In response, President Obama has let the French play a larger role in the discussion about the weaponization issue. But his purpose there appears to be to be to ensure that Paris will buy into the final deal–no matter how weak it turns out to be–not to allow their concerns to become a roadblock to an agreement.
The president’s goal here is détente with Iran, not stopping them from getting a nuclear weapon. It involves a tacit alliance with the Islamist regime in Iraq and Syria as well as a U.S. determination to retreat from the region and to allow Iran a free hand to defend its interests, a strategy that both moderate Arab nations and the Israelis believe is really acquiescence to Iran’s ambition for regional hegemony.
What’s happened with the issue of military research is merely a repetition of the same pattern of Iranian stonewalling followed by American concessions that has marked the entire process. Since the U.S. opened up a secret negotiating track with Iran in 2013, President Obama has gradually retreated from a position demanding an end to Iran’s nuclear program to one in which it will be allowed to keep several thousand centrifuges while also refusing to tell the truth about their work toward a bomb and safe in the knowledge that a sunset clause will eventually enable them to build one after the deal expires. With days left to go before the deadline for the talks to end, anyone who expects the administration to walk away from a deal over any detail, no matter how crucial it might be, has not been paying attention.