While President Obama refuses to negotiate with congressional Republicans over the terms for opening the government and passing an increase in the debt ceiling, he is perfectly happy to negotiate for the umpteenth time with the treacherous Iranian regime. A few encouraging words from the duplicitous new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his sidekick Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during their visit to the United Nations last month, as well as a hastily arranged phone call between Obama and Rouhani, was all that Obama needed to fall for Iran’s latest delaying tactics.
Thus, talks are now beginning to get underway in Geneva between Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries, comprised of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) and Germany. Yet before negotiations had even begun, the thugs running Iran said they will not agree to a shipment of any of its current stocks of enriched uranium out of the country as part of any deal. This is less than Iran was reportedly willing to do back in 2010 when Iran, Turkey and Brazil issued a joint ten-point declaration on a nuclear swap deal, with Iran agreeing to deposit its stockpile of 20-percent uranium in Turkey.
All we can now expect from Teheran, in return for elimination of the energy and banking sanctions currently imposed on Iran, is some sort of possible limitation on the level of Iran’s future uranium enrichment activity and a mutually agreed upon process for increased international inspection. In order to secure even an interim confidence-building step in this direction from the Iranians, which they will be able to easily evade in any event, the West would have to begin to significantly ease the current sanctions.
Robert Einhorn, a former state department official who has been deeply involved in the Iran negotiations and is now with the Brookings Institute, said, “The biggest problem is going to be over the issue of sanctions relief. The Iranians will want to see some early easing, but we will want to hold back as long as possible on sanctions to ensure that we have sufficient leverage to achieve a final agreement.”
Meanwhile, as the talks drag on, the Iranians’ thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, adding to the existing stockpile of enriched uranium that Iran says it will insist on keeping as part of the final agreement.
Obama likes to speak of some Republicans as hostage takers and extortionists for demanding any concessions before agreeing to pass a continuing budget resolution or to raise the debt ceiling. Yet he is more than willing to enter into negotiations with a regime that actually took Americans hostage and never apologized. In order to get Iran to even consider moving back from having the means to quickly build at will the nuclear bombs and delivery systems it can use to extort its neighbors and eventually the world, Obama would have to agree to remove the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. One wishes that Obama would stiffen his spine with our country’s mortal enemies, rather than just with his domestic political adversaries.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his fellow fundamentalist mullahs, backed by the hard line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, run the show in Iran. They hate America, pure and simple. Nuclear weapons are both their insurance policy to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, as well as their ticket to seriously challenge the United States in the Middle East region and beyond.
Rouhani and Zarif, no matter how moderate they may sound when speaking to receptive Western audiences, are Khamenei’s puppets. And when those puppets began to even slightly stray from their master’s tight control while outside of Iran at the UN General Assembly in New York last month, Khamenei let them know of his displeasure.
Khamenei, for example, said that Rouhani’s brief phone conversation with Obama was “not appropriate.” Both the call and Zarif’s longer meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry were “missteps,” according to Khamenei. The supreme leader added for good measure what he really thought of the United States as a negotiating partner, whom he accused of being “seized by the international network of Zionism.” He said that “the American government is untrustworthy, supercilious and unreasonable, and breaks its promises.”
Zarif, the foreign minister, did not take long to get more in line with Khamenei’s tight limits over any authorized outreach to the “Great Satan.” Iran’s influential conservative daily Kayhan reported that Zarif has accepted responsibility for the “missteps.” At a national security and foreign policy committee of the Majlis, called to examine the diplomacy of Rouhani and Zarif in New York, Zarif is reported to have said: “We (Zarif and Rouhani) thought that the talks (with Kerry) and the phone call (with Obama) were within the authority given to us, but it is our understanding that Hazrat Agha (Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) has criticized us for Dr. Rouhani’s phone conversation with Obama, he regards that as the first misstep, and my long meeting with John Kerry, and he regards it as the other misstep during out trip.”
For his part, Rouhani has managed to convince Khamenei so far that his strategy of faux negotiations will be the best path to secure some relief from the crippling sanctions. Rouhani has proven his deception has worked in the past. Last week the Times of Israel reported on a recently discovered four-month-old video clip of Rouhani boasting during an interview on Iranian state television about how he had taken advantage of the suspension of limited activities he offered during negotiations with the Europeans in 2003. At that time until 2005, Rouhani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator. Although Iran issued a joint statement with visiting European Union ministers in October 2003 setting out its pledged obligations under the so-called Tehran Declaration, Rouhani said in the interview, “We did not let that happen!” Instead, exploiting the illusion of suspension, Iran’s government took significant steps in finalizing the heart of Iran’s nuclear program – uranium conversion, enrichment and installation of many more centrifuges.
“Do you know when we developed yellowcake? Winter 2004,” Rouhani boasted. “Do you know when the number of centrifuges reached 3,000? Winter 2004.” He also said that the Iranian heavy water reactor at Arak, which Iran hopes to use as an alternative plutonium path to a nuclear weapon, got going during this time.
“We halted the nuclear program?” Rouhani asked the interviewer rhetorically. “We were the ones to complete it! We completed the technology.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows exactly what is going on. He has tried to call the world’s attention to the Iranian regime’s continuing duplicity and warned negotiators not to be lulled into another Rouhani subterfuge. “He fooled the world once. Now he thinks he can fool it again,” Netanyahu correctly observed. But the Obama administration and its European partners are not listening, nor paying attention to history. While claiming to insist on meaningful, transparent and verifiable concessions, the negotiators are going to Geneva with unrealistic expectations, while giving Iran more time to cross the nuclear arms finish line.
The Iranian negotiators in Geneva will be looking for any wedge they can use to sow divisions among the Western team and seek to unravel the sanctions by first drawing away key European participants. The Iranians can be expected to come with a detailed, attractive looking proposal such as a future enrichment limit at no greater than 3.5%. However, it is likely to be accompanied by the condition that the West first show good faith by partially removing the sanctions, particularly at least some of the banking sanctions that have been hurting Iran’s economy the most.
In interviews with the European press last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned the Europeans against falling for such bait. “No deal is better than a bad deal, and a bad deal would be a partial agreement which lifts sanctions off Iran and leaves them with the ability to enrich uranium or to continue work on their heavy water plutonium, which is what is needed to produce nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told The Financial Times. “Don’t give up now, and don’t say later that I didn’t warn you.”
No sanctions should be removed until Iran unequivocally agrees, and begins to take verifiable steps to implement under unfettered international inspection, the disclosure of all its nuclear research and development facilities above and below ground, the dismantling of nuclear-related facilities with a primarily military or dual use purpose, the halt of all uranium enrichment and plutonium-related activities, and the export of all enriched material out of Iran or its conversion into harmless fuel rods.
If President Obama does not hold his ground in the negotiations and set a firm deadline for meaningful results with all other options kept on the table, starting with further ratcheting up of the sanctions, he will find out soon enough what “extortion” truly looks like.
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