Time and again, President Barack Obama and his indefatigable secretary of state promised that they and their P5+1 negotiating partners would not sign a bad deal with Iran on its nuclear weapons program.
And, lo, they were as good as their word.
They didn’t sign a bad framework deal in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week. They just agreed on one in principle, and left it unsigned, allowing for multiple conflicting interpretations.
It was immediately plain that the US-led negotiators had mislaid their moral compass, and indeed any clear sight of their own self-interest, when they agreed to conduct the negotiations as scheduled even as Iran’s ruthless, arrogant leader Ali Khamenei was intoning his “Death to America” mantra, and one of his military chiefs was declaring that Israel’s destruction is “nonnegotiable.”
What is becoming increasingly plain is the extent to which the Obama team and their colleagues were played for fools by the Iranians in the talks themselves.
Iran was dragged to the negotiating table by the accumulated impact of a painstakingly constructed sanctions regime. It was allowed to leave the table with much of its nuclear weapons program intact, and with the promise of those sanctions being removed.
Unsurprisingly, Iran was not required to acknowledge its nuclear weaponization efforts to date. Unsurprisingly, it was not required to halt its missile development program. Unsurprisingly, sanctions removal was not conditioned on its abandonment of terrorism, a halt to its financing and arming of Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamic extremist groups, or an end to its relentless incitement against Israel. Nobody who had followed the Obama administration’s abject handling of the negotiations prior to Lausanne had expected anything in these areas.
But the deal is far worse than even our relentlessly lowered expectations had given us reason to anticipate. The Arak heavy water plant is not to be dismantled. Why not? Because this was the best deal we could get. The Fordo enrichment facility, built secretly into a mountain, is not to be shuttered. Why not? Because this was the best deal we could get. Thousands of centrifuges are to be allowed to keep on spinning. Thousands more will remain intact. For heaven’s sake, why? Because this was the best deal we could get.
All this according to the — so far — undisputed elements of the unsigned agreement.
Less than a week after those sickening scenes of back-slapping in Lausanne, however, more and more of the central elements of the framework are being disputed.
Are economic sanctions to be lifted only in phases, dependent on Iranian compliance, or all at once, the moment the deal is signed? It’s not clear. Is Iran to be subject to “anywhere, anytime” inspections of all suspect sites, nuclear and military? It’s not clear. Will Iran be obligated to ship out of the country almost all of its stockpile of lower-enriched uranium? It’s not clear. Will Iran be permitted to continue its R&D on more sophisticated centrifuges, to enable a still-faster breakout to the bomb, come the day? It’s not clear.
And not only can we read the starkly conflicting accounts of what was agreed in official American and Iranian fact sheets — massive discrepancies across the negotiating table. We also have conflicting accounts from the same side of the table, with a French fact sheet adding to the confusion.
If it were not so grave it would be farcical to witness the disingenuous attempts by the Obama administration to depict the unfolding disaster as an achievement worthy of admiration — the best deal; historic; a guarantee, in the glib, empty formulation of presidential adviser Ben Rhodes, that Iran will never get the bomb.
In an NPR interview gone horribly wrong on Monday, the president did honestly admit a huge, dire, failing of the accord — the fact that, even if Iran keeps to the deal (and what a colossal, improbable “if” that is), it will be able to break out to the bomb in next-to-no-time when key provisions expire after a decade. (The president had gone part-way down the road to that admission in his New York Times interview on Saturday, saying: “I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch.” — D.H. emphasis)
But there can be no candid acknowledgement of so momentous a flaw, for that would be to confirm Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s endlessly reiterated indictment of the deal as paving Iran’s way to the bomb. And so a State Department spokeswoman was pushed out in front of the cameras on Tuesday to stammer her way through an absurd reinterpretation of Obama’s remarks, an attempt at revisionism that insults our intelligence.
It gets worse. The Iranians’ latest contention is that the deal gives them the right to start injecting gas into their most sophisticated centrifuges — the IR-8s — which they say can enrich uranium 20 times faster than their current IR-1s. And therefore, that smiling, avuncular Foreign Minister Zarif and his nuclear expert colleague Ali Akbar Salehi told Iranian MPs on Tuesday, Iran will begin working with the IR-8s on the first day that the deal goes into effect. This, according to Iran’s own news agencies.
Needless to say, that makes a mockery of the entire deal.
Doubtless there is more of this travesty to come. That’s what you get when you allow a brutal, murderous regime to smell your hesitancy, your weakness, your neglect of your own and your allies’ essential interests.
“This is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon,” Obama asserted to The New York Times. Really, Mr. President? It doesn’t look like that from here. From here, it looks like you could have done a whole lot better.
In fact, it looks like the very outcome you promised you’d avoid: A deal that lifts the economic pressure on an evil regime, and clears its route to the bomb. A bad deal. Far, far worse than no deal at all.