The Obama Administration unfortunately has been outmaneuvered by Iran and hoisted on its own petard. By trumpeting the supposed benefits of diplomatic engagement and ignoring its own deadlines for Iran to meaningfully engage, it left the door open for Tehran to engage the leaders of Turkey and Brazil, who share a common interest with Iran in undermining American leadership. Iran resurrected an even more flawed version of the October deal hatched by the Obama Administration to exchange part of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium for more highly enriched fuel for Iran’s research reactor.
Iran’s new deal is even worse than the old proposal that Iran initially accepted but eventually torpedoed last fall. Iran gives up next to nothing, while getting fuel for its research reactor and an acknowledgment of its right to enrich uranium to 20 percent for the research reactor, which is well on the way to the 90 percent enrichment required for a nuclear weapon.
Incredibly, Iran also insists that it will continue enriching uranium to the 20 percent level despite the fact that there is no need to do so if the deal is accepted — and even if the deal is not accepted, Tehran does not have the capability to fabricate fuel rods out of the enriched uranium for the research reactor. The fact that Iran’s pretext for further uranium enrichment is so clumsily constructed reveals the cynical depths of Iran’s deceitful diplomacy.
The administration’s proposed October deal was a limited confidence-building measure that was designed to postpone Iran’s attainment of a nuclear breakout capacity and buy time for diplomatic negotiations. The 1200 kilograms of enriched uranium that would have been transferred out of Iran was approximately two thirds of Iran’s known stockpile and would have delayed Iran’s accumulation of enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon. But since Iran has continued to build its stockpile over the last seven months, removing 1200 kilograms of enriched uranium from Iran now would amount to only about half of its stockpile and would not postpone Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon by very much.
Now the confidence-building sideshow has become a propaganda bonanza for Tehran and its two enablers, Turkey and Brazil, which have their own objections to American global leadership. The new deal gives the illusion of diplomatic progress despite the fact that it does nothing to address the core issues: Iran’s failure to halt its uranium enrichment and fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to demonstrate that it is complying with its nuclear safeguard obligations. The new deal does not address these issues or the fact that Iran was forced to admit last September that it had built yet another secret nuclear facility inside a mountain.
Iran’s deceptive new deal gives China and Russia more cover to further dilute sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. Although the Obama Administration yesterday proclaimed that it finally had secured Beijing’s and Moscow’s consent for another round of sanctions, that tentative consensus may evaporate, especially now that Turkey and Brazil, two current members of the Security Council, are lobbying against any further sanctions.
But even if the draft resolution survives intact, it is a far cry from the “crippling sanctions” that the administration promised if Iran flouted its engagement efforts. The proposed sanctions do not even rise to the level of “sanctions that bite” that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised in March. China and Russia have made sure that whatever sanctions survive are relatively toothless.
Deleted from the original draft resolution are a ban on foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector, a comprehensive embargo on arms sales to Iran, a comprehensive ban on financial dealings with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and a requirement that states board Iranian vessels suspected of transporting banned materials. Instead the resolution would selectively ban the sale of large weapons systems such as combat aircraft, missiles, and battle tanks; modestly expand an asset freeze and travel ban against individuals and entities linked to the Revolutionary Guards; call for countries to “exercise vigilance” in business dealings with Iranian firms suspected of involvement with banned proliferation activities; and establish a “framework” for possible inspections of suspicious cargo at sea or in ports that would not include a mandatory requirement that suspicious Iranian vessels be boarded.
The Obama Administration now will try to spin the U.N. sanctions resolution as a major victory. But it is clear that it has fallen far short of the “crippling sanctions” long promised by the administration. Worse, Tehran has exploited the administration’s leisurely-paced engagement policy to buy more time for uranium enrichment and transformed the administration’s own proposal for a swap of enriched uranium for reactor fuel into a propaganda coup that divides and distracts the U.N. Security Council from pressing ahead with more effective sanctions.