Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mohammad Javad Zarif

The Senate Should Wipe the Smile From Zarif’s Face

Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Geneva this week where he met again with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the ongoing effort to forge a final agreement on that country’s nuclear program. But not even the secretary of his State Department spin masters tried to represent this latest effort to cajole the Iranians into giving the Obama administration a much-needed diplomatic triumph as anything other than just one more scene in a long-running play directed by the Islamist regime. That the Iranians have the patience and the confidence to wait out the administration until it is willing to give them whatever they want is no longer in question. But as Congress prepares to consider new sanctions legislation that could strengthen the hands of Western negotiators, the spectacle of Kerry scurrying to and from Geneva, in vain attempts to convince Zarif to play nicely while Iran proceeds with building new nuclear infrastructure projects, should only reinforce their resolve to stick to their guns despite threats of a presidential veto.

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Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Geneva this week where he met again with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the ongoing effort to forge a final agreement on that country’s nuclear program. But not even the secretary of his State Department spin masters tried to represent this latest effort to cajole the Iranians into giving the Obama administration a much-needed diplomatic triumph as anything other than just one more scene in a long-running play directed by the Islamist regime. That the Iranians have the patience and the confidence to wait out the administration until it is willing to give them whatever they want is no longer in question. But as Congress prepares to consider new sanctions legislation that could strengthen the hands of Western negotiators, the spectacle of Kerry scurrying to and from Geneva, in vain attempts to convince Zarif to play nicely while Iran proceeds with building new nuclear infrastructure projects, should only reinforce their resolve to stick to their guns despite threats of a presidential veto.

While Kerry was in Geneva, the Iranian media was trumpeting the fact that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced plans to construct two new nuclear power plants in the southern province of Bushehr. The supposed moderate claimed that this shows that Iran was only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear power, but the massive investment in nuclear infrastructure for a country with some of the largest oil reserves in the world is inherently suspicious. Western intelligence agencies have already conceded that they have little confidence about their ability to detect any secret military nuclear programs hidden throughout the country. The decision to build more expensive nuclear plants at a time when the country is financially pressed demonstrates that their commitment to expanding their capability is about more than clean energy.

We can’t know exactly what the Iranians are up to in Bushehr. But the brazen nature of this effort while they continue to stall the Geneva talks speaks volumes about their belief that they can tell the Americans anything they like and still expect Kerry to keep crawling back to see them in the vain hope that next time they’ll gratify his zeal for a deal.

Indeed, by talking about the need to pick up the pace of the talks, Zarif was teasing Kerry as if he was handing a ball of yarn to a kitten. As CBS News reported his remarks:

Zarif was coy when asked if he thought the deadline could be met and what particular issues were most vexing.

“We’ll see,” he said. “All issues are hard until you resolve them and all issues are easy if you resolve them,” he said. “I believe all of them are easy anyway.”

He’s right about that in the sense that since the prelude to the weak interim deal signed in November 2013, the Obama administration’s approach to resolving issues with Iran is to simply gradually concede all points to them. That’s how Iran got Kerry to tacitly recognize their right to enrich uranium and to allow them to hold onto their stockpile of nuclear fuel that could easily be re-activated and converted to use for a weapon in a breakout scenario. That’s also how they have managed to move the position of the U.S. from President Obama’s 2012 campaign pledge to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program to today’s laughable goal of lengthening a potential breakout period.

Zarif was also coy about whether he and Kerry could come to an agreement by the time the latest deadline for the end of the talks expires in July. But since two such deadlines have come and gone without this failure prompting Obama and Kerry to issue ultimatums to the Iranians, there is no reason for Zarif to think they will behave any differently in the future. He can merely wait for them to come to him. That means he thinks he can insist on a deal that will give an international seal of approval and end of sanctions while Iran is permitted to retain the infrastructure and capability to be a threshold nuclear power. Moreover, Zarif also has figured out that the president’s real goal is not so much an acceptable nuclear deal as a new détente with Iran. Since he knows the Americans fear offending him, that gives him the power to be as obdurate as he likes without fear of any consequences.

Obama and Kerry may seek to portray such a disastrous result as the best the West could get in much the same manner as the way they claimed the interim deal was an imperfect yet acceptable bargain. But what these talks desperately need is a change in the dynamic that will wipe that Cheshire cat smile off of Zarif’s face and inject some doubt into Tehran’s calculations about America’s willingness to swallow any Iranian demand or delay. Only more sanctions legislation will do that. The Senate should proceed accordingly.

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Iran Knows Where It’s Going. Does Kerry?

Secretary of State John Kerry’s cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media continue to write of his nuclear deal with Iran as if it were an unalloyed success. Having defended the agreement on the premise that the choice was between recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear program and war, Kerry’s supporters have treated criticism as tantamount to a rejection of peace. The decision to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear facilities may have only made the threat more potent in the long run. But the willingness of the Iranians to sign any agreement seems to have engendered a sense that what the administration has done is to essentially take worries about conflict with Tehran off the table. But a look at what they’re saying about the agreement in Iran reminds us that whatever it is that Kerry did in Geneva, it did not alter Iran’s long-term goals and what they think the deal means for the future of their program and sanctions.

As the Times of Israel reports, the same foreign minister that Kerry has been dealing with told students in Tehran yesterday that the so-called freeze of enrichment that Iran agreed to can be reversed in a flash:

“The structure of our nuclear program has been maintained and the 20 percent enrichment can be resumed in less than 24 hours,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told a gathering of Iranian students in Tehran.

He added that “the structure of the sanctions and the antagonistic atmosphere created by the West against Iran is falling apart,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Javad Zarif is right. Though Kerry and administration apologists defend the deal because it prevents Iran from enriching uranium at weapons grade levels, all it would take is a snap of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fingers to turn up the dials on the centrifuges that President Obama and Kerry have decided they can keep.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment and the mainstream media continue to write of his nuclear deal with Iran as if it were an unalloyed success. Having defended the agreement on the premise that the choice was between recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear program and war, Kerry’s supporters have treated criticism as tantamount to a rejection of peace. The decision to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear facilities may have only made the threat more potent in the long run. But the willingness of the Iranians to sign any agreement seems to have engendered a sense that what the administration has done is to essentially take worries about conflict with Tehran off the table. But a look at what they’re saying about the agreement in Iran reminds us that whatever it is that Kerry did in Geneva, it did not alter Iran’s long-term goals and what they think the deal means for the future of their program and sanctions.

As the Times of Israel reports, the same foreign minister that Kerry has been dealing with told students in Tehran yesterday that the so-called freeze of enrichment that Iran agreed to can be reversed in a flash:

“The structure of our nuclear program has been maintained and the 20 percent enrichment can be resumed in less than 24 hours,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told a gathering of Iranian students in Tehran.

He added that “the structure of the sanctions and the antagonistic atmosphere created by the West against Iran is falling apart,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Javad Zarif is right. Though Kerry and administration apologists defend the deal because it prevents Iran from enriching uranium at weapons grade levels, all it would take is a snap of Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fingers to turn up the dials on the centrifuges that President Obama and Kerry have decided they can keep.

Optimists about the deal are also ignoring the dynamic between the two sides since the deal was signed on November 24. The agreement has not gone into effect because it is such a complicated mess that it requires follow-up negotiations to implement it. This is considered a mere detail to be cleared up by those extolling the accord, but it is actually a crucial reason why Iran thinks it is still in control of the conflict. By continuing their normal diplomatic practice of prevarication during the negotiations about implementation (as evidenced by their walk-out from those talks in Vienna last week), Iran hopes to delay and confuse an Obama administration that seems more interested in creating an opening for a game-changing détente with Iran than in spiking their nuclear ambitions.

But as Javad Zarif indicated, not only is the restriction on enrichment above five percent essentially meaningless in terms of its ability to prevent or lengthen the period of an Iranian “breakout” to nuclear capability, Tehran also thinks Kerry’s loosening of sanctions means that the West’s campaign of economic restrictions is doomed. As much as Kerry has been at pains to argue the contrary opinion, it’s hard to argue with the Iranian’s logic.

The whole point of the sanctions had been to persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear dreams. But now that Kerry has signaled that Tehran will keep its nuclear program even after a final agreement, the implicit threat of the use of force should Iran balk is effectively off the table. Under those circumstances its difficult to imagine Washington’s European partners will be any more enthusiastic about enforcing the existing sanctions, let alone toughening them during follow-up negotiations.

More to the point, the Iranians seemed to have made their point about what they consider the spirit of Geneva. By arguing against an effort to toughen sanctions against Iran proposed by a bipartisan congressional coalition, both Obama and Kerry have said any further pressure on Tehran would “break faith” with their diplomatic partners. That gives the Iranians the power to brand any effort by the United States, including the enforcement of existing sanctions, as a reason for breaking off negotiations. This will allow them to drag out the preliminaries as well as anything that follows the six-month period when the two sides will supposedly be working on a final agreement.

The point is, Iran no longer thinks, if it ever did, that the U.S. has the will to stop them. And having gotten the administration to agree to the maintenance of their nuclear infrastructure, it is only a matter of time before they get their bomb, whether by evading agreements or stonewalling their implementation. As Javad Zarif’s statement and others coming out of Tehran demonstrate, they know where they’re going. The question is, does Kerry?

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