Today in Lausanne, Switzerland, officials from the United States, Iran, and other world powers delivered big news about the negotiations aimed at halting Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb. But they didn’t announce a deal. In fact, they didn’t even announce an agreement. Rather, they revealed, according to the New York Times, a “specific and comprehensive general understanding about the next steps in limiting Tehran’s nuclear program.” There’s a lot of padding in that description for a reason: the P5+1 powers are far off from anything resembling a nuclear deal with Tehran.
What we now have is confirmation that negotiations will continue. There’s good reason to believe that this is what both sides were after above all else. For Tehran it means continued sanctions relief, and for the Obama administration it means its diplomacy cannot yet be judged a failure.
Going by social and professional media responses, the administration has achieved its goal in spades. Today’s announcement is largely being seen as cause for optimism. This is foremost a measure of how low Americans have set the bar for diplomatic progress in the Obama age. Today’s “understanding” is actually verification—on paper—of long-rumored American capitulations on Iran’s nuclear program.
The official American capitulations: First, Iran would be allowed to continue operating 5,060 uranium-enriching centrifuges for ten years. Experts agree that’s enough to fuel one nuclear bomb per year. Before the Obama administration began talks with Iran, United Nations resolutions had prohibited Iran from enriching uranium, period.
Second, Iran is permitted to keep its underground enrichment facility at Fordow. The administration claims it will be transformed into a “nuclear, physics, technology, research center” that won’t enrich uranium for 15 years. But as Barack Obama has previously said, “We know they [Iran] don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordow in order to have a peaceful program.”
Third, any nuclear deal would not be indefinite, but time-limited. Today, John Kerry assured the American people that a deal would not include “sunsets,” but that’s precisely what these 10-year and 15-year limits are. Extending a deal would require that the Iranians choose to extend it.
Fourth, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, all American and European nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will terminate at the start of a deal, not in response to Iranian compliance. If this is true, it is a dangerous American capitulation: What incentive would Iran have for keeping up its side of the bargain? If Zarif is lying, it goes to show just how far from a good-faith deal we are.
Fifth, the framework includes only the vaguest of language about Iran’s responsibility to detail the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program to date. This is important because without a baseline understanding of Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts, the United States cannot accurately confirm any progress on this front.
In exchange for all this, the administration wants Americans to believe that Iran will enrich uranium to only 3.67 percent (for 15 years), allow vigorous international inspections, refrain from future nuclear-weapons work, ship out a good deal of enriched nuclear material, and generally abide by the terms of an eventual deal with the United States. Will any of that even happen? Considering that Zarif is already publicly questioning the administration’s account of the “understanding” on Twitter, it seems unlikely. No, we don’t have a deal, but we have a fuller understanding of Barack Obama’s desperation for one.