April 1, 2015
According to an Associated Press report, the Iranian nuke negotiations have engendered an agreement—to continue taking in hopes of reaching a final agreement by the end of June. As an unnamed senior U.S. official put it, talks between Iran and the P5+1 powers (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany) would continue past yesterday’s deadline for the outline of an agreement if enough progress was made to justify that extension. By late yesterday that contention was confirmed: talks will continue through today.
As talks wound down in Lausanne, Switzerland, the words “framework agreement” had been softened to “framework of understanding,” reflecting the reality that major issues remain unresolved. They include differences regarding the allowable scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be located, what limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development should be imposed, and the timing and range of sanctions relief that would be granted in return.
The change of language was apparently a response, at least in part, to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who voiced his opposition to a two-stage agreement earlier this year. Khamenei wants a single deal with specifics that doesn’t allow for any wiggle room by Western nations that could “make things difficult” for Tehran.
The joint statement will be accompanied by additional documents containing enough details to allow both sides to claim enough progress so that talks can continue, but Iran has yet to sign off on those documents.
And despite the one-day extension, the details of the disagreements reveal the gap between opposing positions remains substantial. Iran wants complete freedom following a 10-year limitation on their nuclear activity. The P1+5 wants those activities strictly limited for 10 years, followed by five years of progressive easing of restrictions. Iran wants immediate sanctions relief soon after an agreement is signed. The P5+1 wants a phase out that includes years of remaining restrictions on imports of nuclear-related technology. Western powers also want a mechanism for quickly reimposing sanctions if Iran reneges, with Russia agreeing, but insisting its U.N. Security Council veto rights remain protected as well.
Iran also wants the right to continue making advanced centrifuges and still balks at the idea of sending its existing stockpile of nuclear fuel abroad (most likely to Russia) to reassure the world it can’t be enriched for bomb-making. Tehran continues to insist its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the signs are not encouraging. While Iran has ostensibly reduced its demand regarding the number of centrifuges it is allowed to keep from 10,000 to 6,000, plus another 480 centrifuges in the underground facility in Fordo, Western powers appear to be content with a deal that will stretch the time Iran needs to make a bomb from two or three months to at least a year. They are also seemingly content with the notion that at some future point in time Iran will be free to do as it pleases.
Regardless of the outcome, complications abound. At the center of those complications is a legislative branch of government already disenchanted with the Obama administration’s penchant for ignoring or bypassing them. Unfortunately for the administration that disenchantment is bipartisan. “There is no trust in Iran,” said Foreign Relations Committee member Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). “There is not a real belief that they want to come to a real deal.”
Waiting in the congressional wings is the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker. More familiarly known as the Corker-Menendez bill, this piece of legislation would require a congressional vote on any agreement with Iran reached by the administration. It would also require the administration to wait 60 days before lifting any sanctions on Iran while lawmakers decided whether or not to support any deal. Adding heft to the legislation is the reality that it has reached close to veto-proof support levels among lawmakers. Some of that support was likely engendered by the threat of a veto from the White House immediately following the bill’s release.
There is also a measure sponsored by Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Sen. Menendez that would ratchet up sanctions on Iran if there isn’t a deal curtailing its nuclear program by the end of June. Omri Ceren, press and strategy director at The Israel Project (TIP) a Washington-based group “dedicated to informing the media and public conversation about Israel and the Middle East,” notes Congress’s determination to get involved either way. “If they come back without a deal, they’re going to get hit with the Kirk-Menendez bill,” he explains. “If they come back with a deal, they’re going to get hit with Corker’s bill.”
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) said he and his colleagues are concerned that a deal allowing Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure and refusing to impose a strict inspections regimen on the regime is a non-starter. “That’s why 365 members of Congress joined me and my ranking member to write the president last week and demanded that any agreement must last decades,” he said. “With such bipartisan concerns, the administration is working to marginalize Congress on what is looking like a bad deal. So we’re looking at different options to weigh in on the agreement.”
Further complicating efforts—or perhaps more accurately, adding a dose of reality to the mix—is Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. In a statement made public yesterday by Israel Radio, Naqdi insisted that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable.” Naqdi also threatened Saudi Arabia, currently taking on Iran’s proxies in Yemen, saying they would “have a fate like the fate of Saddam Hussein.”
That would be the very same Saudi Arabia expected to join the nuclear arms race following any rapprochement with Iran. “Taking matters into our own hands is the name of the game today,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist and former adviser to the government. “A deal will open up the Saudi appetite and the Turkish appetite for more nuclear programs. But for the time being Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with its operations to pull the carpet out from underneath the Iranians in our region.” Khashoggi also explained why such a move was necessary. “The Americans seem nonchalant about this, like, ‘This is your sectarian problem, you deal with it,’ ” he said. “So the Saudis went ahead with this Yemen operation.”
Adding fuel to the fire is the Obama administration’s unconscionable efforts to coordinate with the world’s foremost sponsor of state terrorism in combatting ISIS, which in turn strengthens Iran’s Syrian proxy Bashar Assad. Both developments have engendered an unprecedented level of distrust among America’s Arab allies. “There is a disbelief in the Arab world that these negotiations are only about the nuclear file, and a frequent complaint here is that we are kept in the dark, we are not consulted,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “The U.S. is much less trusted as an ally, as an insurance policy towards the security threats facing the governments in the region, and so those governments decide to act on their own.”
One may be forgiven for wondering why negotiations with Iran don’t include anything connected to that ongoing support of their Syrian and Yemeni proxies, as well as terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, both of whom yearn for Israel’s annihilation.
Which brings us to Israel. Obama’s chief nemesis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, remains as defiant—and clear-headed–as ever. “The biggest threat to our security and future was and remains Iran’s attempt to arm with nuclear weapons,” he said. “The agreement being put together at Lausanne is paving the way for that result.” He further declared that allowing Iran to keep underground facilities at Fordo, a hard water reactor in Arak, and advanced centrifuges are concessions that Israel was assured only a few months ago would not be part of any agreement. Netanyahu aptly characterized any deal as “a reward for Iran’s aggression.”
As for the American public, if a Washington Post/ABC News poll is to be believed, the best word to describe their attitude is schizophrenic. By a margin of 59-31 percent Americans support a deal lifting major economic sanctions against Iran—if Iran restricts its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons. Yet at the same time, nearly 60 percent say they are not confident a deal will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Such a poll underscores the disingenuousness of the American left. A better and far more accurate question would be to ask the public if they support a deal that grants an apocalyptic-minded Islamist regime complete freedom to build a nuke at some point in the future, and continue to perfect what is already the Middle East’s largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal.
“Stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be a major accomplishment for this or any other administration,” contends Robert Einhorn, a former non-proliferation adviser at the State Department under Obama. That is undoubtedly true. It is also undoubtedly true that this agreement does nothing of the sort.
Powerline’s John Hinderaker deftly sums up the current state of affairs. “There are two principal parties to the negotiations that are now reaching a climax,” he writes. “The Iranian mullahs are determined to build nuclear weapons and ICBMs that will carry those bombs to the United States, the ‘Great Satan.’ The Obama administration is determined to sign a paper agreement that will boost Obama in the polls for a week or two. (This is the most charitable assumption.) For the radical clerics, a year, ten years, twenty years mean little: they can wait. Who do you think is going to come out on top in that negotiation?”
Tehran knows the answer to this question. Washington seems knows the answer as well — now we will see if our lawmakers will do anything about it.
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