The tentative nuclear deal that the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) reportedly has reached with Iran has been widely hailed as a success for the Obama Administration’s engagement policy. For example, today a Washington Post article described the deal as “providing a major boost for the Obama administration as it seeks to engage the Islamic republic.” But a closer look at the negotiations gives strong reasons for concern.
First of all, the focus on helping Iran to refuel its research reactor in Tehran has distracted attention from the fact that Iran stubbornly insists that it will continue to enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. This is the main issue of the P5+1 talks, but it has been obscured by Tehran’s tactical flexibility on the issue of moving about three quarters of its known supplies of low enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country to be further enriched in Russia and turned into fuel rods by France.
Second, the negotiations have boosted Iran’s case that it needs enriched uranium for “civilian” purposes but have not solved the problem of how to keep Tehran from diverting enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon. If Iran does in fact follow through on its promises to send the LEU to Russia, then the problem is only postponed, not resolved. Iran can replace the LEU in a year or less with the centrifuges still whirling away at Natanz. Meanwhile, Iran also could have other secret facilities dedicated to producing the highly enriched uranium needed to arm a nuclear weapon.
Third, by giving the appearance of progress while the real problem remains, Tehran has bought more time in which to continue to enrich uranium without paying a penalty in the form of tougher sanctions. Iran now will stretch out the negotiations to defuse momentum for further sanctions that was generated by the latest revelation of Iranian duplicity about the secret uranium enrichment plant at Qom. Before the latest round of talks, a senior Iranian official gloated that “Time is on our side” and that Iran would send junior officials who did not have the authority to make concessions to the October 19 talks, so that the talks can be dragged out further. President Obama said on October 1 that Iran must allow inspectors access within 2 weeks but Iran already has missed that deadline. The IAEA inspectors will go in on October 25th, if the agreement in principle is still valid then.
Fourth, the Obama Administration has an “agreement in principle” with a regime that has no principles, except to hold on to power and export its revolution. As Ambassador John Bolton has written, “Diplomacy’s three slipperiest words are ‘agreement in principle.’” Iran could renege on its commitment, as it has done many times in the past.
Iran already has altered the original agreement by claiming that France can not play a prominent part in the arrangements because of its past unreliability, which is a bad joke coming from Tehran. Apparently, now the Russians will subcontract the manufacturing of the fuel rods for the Tehran reactor to France so that Tehran’s tender sensibilities will be protected.
The bottom line is that contrary to popular belief, the negotiations with Iran have not produced a breakthrough that has resolved the long-simmering crisis over Tehran’s nuclear program. All they have yielded so far is an agreement in principle on a secondary issue that Iran can easily back away from in the future. Meanwhile, the push for further sanctions has been postponed despite the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium.