H/T : Doris Wise Montrose
Enabling Iran’s Nukes
01.01.15 – 12:00 AM | by Omri Ceren
The lies began at the very beginning, with assurances that American diplomacy had secured a “halt” in the Iranian nuclear program.
Late on the night of November 23, 2013, President Barack Obama stood in the State Dining Room and announced that an interim agreement had been reached between Iran and the P5+1 global powers—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China—that “halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program.” The White House distributed a fact sheet emphasizing that Iran had promised to “halt progress on the growth” of its low-enriched uranium stockpile and to “halt progress on its plutonium track” to a nuclear weapon. Senior-administration officials held a late-night briefing to stress for reporters that the concessions added up to “a halt of activities across the Iranian program”—the word halt was used more than a dozen more times—and that the coming months would also see sustained progress in investigating Iranian research into nuclear detonations. Reporters would be told in subsequent weeks that the agreement even prohibited Iran from further testing on ballistic missiles.
Those statements were, on the whole, false. But on that night, the president and those around him badly needed them to be true. So they pretended they were.
By November 2014, the six-month interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) announced that night had been extended into a year (a contingency that had been formally built into and anticipated by the original text). The parties, unable to seal an agreement even after twelve months, then extended negotiations through the summer of 2015. The move stoked long-standing fears that the Iranians were using negotiations as a stalling tactic as they inched toward a bomb, but the president and his administration insisted that there was no harm in having more talks. Rerunning the claims from that first night, they insisted that Iran’s program had been “frozen” by the JPOA—and that the Iranians were living up to their end of the bargain by keeping it frozen.
Those claims remain false.
It is a worthwhile exercise to go back and see how the Obama administration’s desperate quest began and why the president and his people are still clinging to hopes about these negotiations, which they have every reason to know are, in truth, delusional.
Throughout 2013, domestic criticism of the Obama administration’s overtures toward the Islamic Republic was building. There were broad suspicions of conciliatory moves to Tehran, but nothing definite; as we now know, as of the beginning of the year, the State Department was still flatly lying to reporters about the existence of secret bilateral talks between Washington and Tehran. But in the summer of 2013, the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the Iranian presidential election emboldened those around Obama, and eventually the president himself, to escalate the ongoing outreach.
But by fall, Washington and its allies still had little to show for their efforts. Iran was still steadily progressing toward having a nuclear weapon, and Iranian leaders were still regularly boasting that nothing could stop their progress. Congressional leaders were eager to move forward on crippling sanctions legislation aimed at testing that braggadocio.
The Obama administration had a different approach. Advisers in and around the White House insisted that Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, could prevail upon the Iranian establishment and cut a deal addressing the country’s nuclear program. The duo just needed to be shown a little more goodwill; new pressure would scuttle their efforts back home.
Congress was skeptical but continued watching from the sidelines even as Iranians marched closer every day to nuclear-weapons acquisition. On November 10, 2013, a much anticipated summit in Geneva— aimed at immediately stopping that very march in anticipation of further negotiations—collapsed. France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, discovered late in the talks that his P5+1 counterparts were preparing to acquiesce to a deal that lacked robust checks on Iran’s plutonium work. He publicly blasted the terms as “a sucker’s deal,” and the talks ended. Everyone agreed to reassemble in two weeks to try again.
American diplomats had failed and had looked bad doing it. They had been ready to sign, per the French, an agreement that fell short of stopping Iran’s drive toward a weapon. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies estimated that the Iranians had been offered roughly $20 billion in financial relief to take the deal, far in excess of what the administration could justify. Congressional leaders were beside themselves. The Obama administration had reassured them that it would strike a tough bargain with Iran only if Congress gave U.S. diplomats some breathing room. Instead, the diplomats had been willing to trade billions of dollars for a toothless entente. Well, if American negotiators lacked sufficient leverage to extract meaningful concessions from Iran, Congress would provide it to them. Legislation was prepared and shared that would immediately impose a new round of sanctions on Iran.
Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate sent the president letters objecting to the reported contours of an emerging deal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor and declared that after the Thanksgiving recess, he would present and support bipartisan sanctions legislation against Iran if diplomacy continued to falter.
The P5+1 meeting was to be held that weekend. Given all of this, President Obama badly needed Iranian leaders to accept an agreement immediately freezing their uranium, plutonium, and ballistic-missile programs in exchange for limited sanctions relief, and he needed it stat.
The agreement that administration officials purported to have secured would have been a diplomatic masterstroke. It would have immediately frozen activity across the three core areas of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program—uranium enrichment, plutonium-related work, and ballistic-missile development—while dealing with the verification issue that hangs over the entire program. In exchange, the West would have provided what the White House fact sheet characterized as limited, temporary, and reversible relief from some sanctions. It would have lasted for only six months, a decent amount of time to test diplomacy. No diplomatic concessions would have been made up front.
But since American diplomats couldn’t get Iran to agree to a deal in which it would do any of those things, what they actually brought home was the Joint Plan of Action. It allowed Iran to continue making sustained progress along its uranium and plutonium tracks, contained no restrictions on ballistic-missile development, failed to open up Iran’s atomic facilities to verification, provided sufficient economic relief to stabilize Iran’s economy, and would last for at least 18 months.