No, the provisions of the interim deal signed in Geneva with Iran early Sunday are not themselves disastrous. If the US and other world powers had been negotiating a contract with a dependable and credible interlocutor, the deal might make a certain amount of sense. The problem is that Iran is not a dependable or credible interlocutor. It is, rather, a cunning and deceptive adversary, and the US has let it off the hook.
In so far as they go, the terms of the deal make a certain amount of sense. Iran’s march to the bomb, in theory, is being temporarily constrained. It can no longer enrich uranium to 20% and must neutralize its existing stockpiles of 20% enriched uranium. It cannot increase its stockpiles of 3.5% enriched uranium. It can no longer advance work on its Arak heavy water facility, under a clause that was much improved from the amateurish formulation put to the Iranians in the original Geneva offer two weeks ago, which would have enabled them to continue construction there. Its acknowledged nuclear facilities will be subjected to far more intrusive and effective inspection. And the sanctions relief, formally at least, is relatively limited and theoretically reversible if the Iranians break their promises.
The problem is that Iran has never acknowledged that it is in fact marching to the bomb. And these interim arrangements, concluded at a moment when the regime felt itself to be under unprecedented economic pressure, a moment of maximal leverage, scandalously failed to require Iran to admit to those two decades-plus of lying and deception.
Instead, the United States, the free world’s only hope of thwarting Iran, appears to have convinced itself that this admission of duplicity, this Iranian confession that it has been developing nuclear weapons, can be extracted over the coming six months as negotiations move ahead on a permanent accord. Unfortunately, disastrously, that’s just not going to happen.
As stated by the White House on Sunday, the “comprehensive solution” to be negotiated by late May “envisions concrete steps to give the international community confidence that Iran’s nuclear activities will be exclusively peaceful.” By definition, then, such a comprehensive deal will require the exposure of those elements of the Iranian program — such as the Parchin military complex, where the IAEA believes Iran has carried out extensive nuclear weapons-related activities — that the regime has insistently shielded from international view.
Sorry, folks, but the Iranians will not be spending the next six months dutifully preparing to take the IAEA on a tour of all the facilities they have been lying about — dutifully detailing the bomb-making activities they carried out here, the explosives-testing they undertook there — en route to the dutiful dismantling of their entire military nuclear enterprise
A “comprehensive solution” would require Iran to come clean. It would disprove the regime’s insistent contention that it has always acted in good faith and has been the innocent victim of American and Zionist plots. It would show the regime to have lied to its own people. It would expose the duplicity of its leaders’ claims never to have sought the bomb.
The Iranian regime has always done everything in its power to avoid that moment of reckoning. And the US has now let if off the hook.
Sorry, folks, but the Iranians will not be spending the next six months dutifully preparing to take the IAEA on a tour of all the facilities they have been lying about — dutifully detailing the bomb-making activities they carried out here, the explosives-testing they undertook there — en route to the dutiful dismantling of their entire military nuclear enterprise. They won’t be shamefacedly throwing open the doors to Parchin. They won’t be providing the full story of what they’ve been up to at Fordo — the underground enrichment facility that, for Emily Landau, an expert on nuclear proliferation at Tel Aviv University’s INSS think tank, constitutes clear evidence of Iran’s military program. (There is no plausible civilian explanation for Iran having constructed a secret, underground facility that can hold only 3,000 centrifuges, Landau, who spoke to me at length for this article, points out. Fordo’s “only plausible purpose,” she says, is to take low-enriched uranium to weapons-grade level, for the production of one to two nuclear bombs per year.)
Instead, the Iranians can be utterly relied upon to spend the next six months, and a whole lot longer, arguing over the terms of the interim deal, pushing their own interpretations of what’s been agreed, while seeking every means to further ease the economic pressure they’re under. As Landau notes, the seeds of years of potential disagreement have already been sown in that there doesn’t even appear to be an agreed text of the interim deal; Iran and the White House have released different versions, with significant differences.
That avuncular, English-speaking Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will be assuring the world that Iran is fully keeping its side of the bargain, that Iran has shown its good faith, that Iran has demonstrated its mature responsibility, that Iran is being unfairly picked upon, that Iran represents no danger to anybody. And that it’s long past time to stop punishing Iran’s suffering populace with savage, unjustified economic sanctions, imposed on the basis of falsehoods and manipulation by the Israelis and their American and European patsies.
Until Sunday, the international community was telling Iran: You want sanctions relief? Then tell us the truth about your nuclear weapons program and start dismantling it. As of Sunday, the international community is telling Iran: We’re giving you limited sanctions relief, and we want you to start telling us the truth about your nuclear weapons program further on down the road.
It’s not going to work. The US has let Iran off the hook.
In theory, the cause is not yet entirely lost. The $7 billion worth of promised financial relief could turn out to be all the sanctions relief that Tehran gets. The painstakingly constructed wall of economic pressure, so effectively heightened these past two years under the Americans’ direction, could yet hold. And if that pressure were maintained, and the regime felt its very survival was at stake a few months from now, it could yet cave and come clean.
But none of that’s going to occur, as the United States must have known. Surrounded by Iran-backing Russia, amoral China and the impotent Europeans, facing an Iran playing very smart cards from a very weak hand, the United States didn’t merely blink in Geneva. It closed its eyes.
The wall of sanctions is cracked now, and the crack will widen. Self-interested nations and hard-nosed businesspeople will see to that. The pressure is lifting. There’ll be no comprehensive deal six months from now — no deal, that is, that exposes and dismantles Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The Iranians are sighing with relief.
An unnamed senior Israeli official, presumably not a million miles from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was quoted on Channel 2 news Sunday night as saying that, in Geneva, “Obama established Iran as a nuclear threshold state.” Indeed so.
Does that mean the Iranians will now speed to the bomb? And if they did, would they use the bomb against Israel? No, and no. They’re unlikely to overtly flout the understandings they’ve reached with the world powers in the near future. Rather, as they argue over terms and battle relentlessly to destroy the sanctions regime, they’ll seek to entrench the current situation in which the military aspects of their program remain off-limits to the world’s prying eyes.
And as its economy revives, nuclear-threshold state Iran will gradually assert itself as a regional heavyweight, with the leverage and clout to pursue its rapacious territorial and ideological goals, most emphatically including the ongoing effort to weaken and isolate and demonize and threaten Israel. And Israel will find its capacity to respond necessarily limited.
Landau has not entirely given up hope. She notes that a comprehensive deal would need to cover all aspects of the Iranian program, include “highly intrusive verification mechanisms, expose all past weaponization activities and ensure rollback from all military aspirations.” For that to be achieved, she stresses, the international community will have to hold firm on sanctions pressure as Iran complains and obfuscates and argues and exploits divisions in the P5+1 and uses every other trick in the book in the coming months. “You’ll need all possible leverage to get a full deal,” she says. “And without a full deal, you’ve lost.”
Trouble is, the Americans signaled the easing of that crucial leverage in Geneva on Sunday. The US, that is, let Iran off the hook.