Extolling the virtues of his deal with Iran on Thursday, President Barack Obama made a false and extremely nasty assertion: “It’s no secret,” he claimed, incorrectly, “that the Israeli prime minister and I don’t agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue.”
It is indeed no secret that Obama and Netanyahu don’t agree on how to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. It is emphatically not the case, however, that Israel’s prime minister opposes “a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue.” It is emphatically not the case, despite Obama’s insinuation, that Israel’s leader regards military intervention as the only means to thwart Iran.
Netanyahu has not been saying no to diplomacy. His endlessly stated contention is not that war is the only alternative to the deal so delightedly hailed by Obama as “the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” Rather, in Netanyahu’s insistent opinion, what is needed is simply a different, far more potent deal.
As Netanyahu made plain in anguished, infuriated tones on Wednesday, in the final hours before the Lausanne agreement was struck, what was required was not no deal at all, but rather “a better deal,” one “which would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure” and “link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior.” A deal to ensure that Iran “stop its aggression in the region, stop its terrorism throughout the world, and stop its threats to annihilate Israel.” That, said Netanyahu, is “the deal that the world powers must insist upon.”
Instead, what the world powers agreed in principle with the world’s most dangerous regime was a deal under which none of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be shuttered, and in which the ostensibly unprecedented international inspections do not meet the critical “anyplace, anytime” requirement — even if, that is, this currently unfinalized framework is actually filled in and completed over the months ahead. “None of those measures include closing any of our facilities; the proud people of Iran would never accept that,” Iran’s super-suave Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif contentedly reported. “Our facilities will continue. We will continue enriching; we will continue research and development; our heavy water reactor will be modernized, and we will continue the Fordow facility…”
Obama’s consistently compromising mindset
Much has been made in the past few days about the purported departure, in this hopelessly flawed framework agreement, from the goals that Obama had publicly set for his diplomatic outreach.
Netanyahu himself has twice alluded to remarks made by Obama as recently as 15 months ago, at the Saban Forum in Washington, DC. “They don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordow in order to have a peaceful nuclear program,” Obama said then, in answer to a question posed by Israel’s former IDF Military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin. “They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program.”
In fact, however, the framework announced Thursday cleaves closely to the radically compromising mindset that the president detailed in that answer he gave to Yadlin. For what Obama went on to say that day in December 2013 was that, “…the question ultimately is going to be, are they prepared to roll back some of the advancements that they’ve made that … hint at a desire to have breakout capacity and go right to the edge of breakout capacity. And if we can move that significantly back, then that is, I think, a net win.”
With talk of reduced stockpiles and the halting of the plutonium route, Thursday’s framework does indeed contain potentially positive elements toward that goal — the rolling back of some of Iran’s moves toward a breakout to the bomb.
But Obama’s defeatist approach — at the Saban Forum he derided Netanyahu’s demand for the dismantling of Iran’s military nuclear capabilities as plain unrealistic — means that the essential components for Iran’s breakout to the bomb will merely be “mothballed,” as the Israeli nuclear expert Dr. Emily Landau put it to me on Friday, rather than taken apart. “It’ll still have everything there,” warns Landau, to break out as and when it wants to.
And already Zarif is asserting that the US position paper setting out the ostensible agreement is “spin.”
Emboldening a murderous regime
Iranians were said to be celebrating in the streets late Thursday, overjoyed by news of the deal, and most especially the imminent phased lifting of the sanctions that brought the regime to the negotiating table in the first place.
The ayatollahs have every reason for celebration too. This unsigned, already disputed, inadequate deal further cements their hold on power. It leaves a ruthless, duplicitous, and patient regime with the ways and means to break out to the bomb further down the road.
And it was negotiated in a context that can only have convinced Iran of the fecklessness of its adversaries.
Even as the world powers were convened in Lausanne, Iran was strengthening its proxy hold on Yemen, still further bolstering its sway in the region.
The talks went on, quite undisturbed, despite the declaration on Tuesday by Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij militia of the Revolutionary Guards, that, for Iran, “erasing Israel from the map” is “nonnegotiable.”
The US-led negotiators convened, evidently unfazed, just days after Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, having wound up a mass gathering in Tehran to chant “Death to America,” responded: “Of course yes, Death to America.”
“The proud people of Iran,” crowed Foreign Minister Zarif, would never have accepted the closure of any of their nuclear facilities. But the president of the United States was not too proud to strike a deal that empowers and rewards a murderous leadership that is widening its influence across the Middle East, extending its missile range, sponsoring terrorism worldwide, vowing to eliminate Israel, and demanding “Death to America.”
What was needed was not no deal at all. What was needed — and, crucially, what was possible given the economic pressure that had been mustered against Iran — was a better deal.
A better deal is still needed. Unfortunately, tragically, the president of the United States has not been sufficiently resolute to insist upon it.