President Barack Obama is leading America’s negotiating partners from the front, apparently willing to make major concessions to Iran in order to achieve his legacy nuclear deal. In doing so, he is being led by the nose by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who keeps moving the goalposts. The June 30th deadline to reach a final agreement was initially pushed back so that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif could travel from Vienna, where the negotiations are being held, to Tehran for further instructions. The deadline for reaching a deal has now been moved to July 7, just before the point when the time available for Congress to review its terms would be extended from 30 days to 60 days.
In order to appear tough before finally caving in, President Obama said on June 30th that he was prepared to walk away from the talks unless Iran agrees to a “serious, rigorous verification mechanism” to ensure its compliance with the terms of a final deal. He said the inspections cannot just consist of “declarations” from Iran and “a few inspectors wandering around every once in a while.” He even acknowledged publicly for the first time that Iran seemed to be backing away from the commitments it had supposedly made in the preliminary framework agreement reached last April in Lausanne, Switzerland.
However, this sudden show of toughness is designed to make Obama appear strong to his skeptics, while he prepares to give away the store in the details of the final deal that Congress in all likelihood will not have the votes to kill. Obama has been either completely clueless as to the wide gap between Iran and the United States in understanding what had been agreed to last April, or he is being disingenuous. As pointed out at the time, when a so-called fact sheet was issued by the State Department purporting to describe the preliminary agreement that Iran’s leaders immediately rejected as inaccurate and mere spin, it was then evident that there was no meeting of the minds on the fundamental elements of a deal.
Obama should have made clear the lines he would not cross, and stick to them this time. The opportunity to do so was weeks ago when Khamenei first insisted on severely limiting the scope of inspections and demanded immediate sanctions relief. Obama missed that opportunity. Now he “doth protest too much.”
According to Debkafile, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have reportedly approved three major concessions in order to try and meet Khamenei’s demands to date:
1. No full accounting required of past activities at military sites possibly related to Iran’s nuclear program;
2. No insistence on “anytime, anywhere” inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of suspect nuclear facilities.
3. Sanctions relief to be provided in three tranches, none of which are tied specifically to Iran’s full compliance with its obligations under the final nuclear deal.
At one point earlier in the year, before the preliminary framework agreement was completed, France appeared to be the one country involved in the negotiations that held out some hope for introducing a healthy dose of realism into the process. It reportedly objected at that time to some concessions the Obama administration was then considering. However, France cannot be counted on to stop the train wreck at this late stage of the final agreement negotiations.
Back in March, while the preliminary framework agreement was being negotiated, France’s Ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, tweeted: “We want a deal. They need a deal. The tactics and the result of the negotiation should reflect this asymmetry.” He warned against entering into a rash arrangement with Iran in order to meet an artificial deadline. Secretary of State John Kerry was reported to have been furious at Ambassador Araud for stating the obvious. President Obama himself reportedly telephoned French President Francois Hollande last March to express displeasure with France’s resistance to certain concessions that the Obama administration was exploring even at the preliminary stage, including with respect to sanctions relief.
Now France appears to be falling in line with the Obama administration’s playbook. It has evidently backed down in the face of pressure from the Obama administration and other negotiating partners. Anyway, France’s leaders can taste the lucrative business that French companies will gain with Iran once the sanctions are eased.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was visiting the United Nations in New York on June 28th for discussion of climate change issues, equivocated on the need for preserving the right to inspect any military sites for possible nuclear-related activities. In response to Ayatollah Khamenei’s refusal to allow any inspections of military sites, Mr. Fabius said to me in cryptic diplomatese that Iran’s military sites need not be targeted for inspections, although not necessarily avoided either. He would not say whether France considered unfettered inspections “anywhere at any time” a pre-condition to completing a deal with Iran. This is the same man who not too long ago declared that inspections of military sites were a top priority and that “the best agreement, if you cannot verify it, it’s useless.”
A bipartisan group of 19 prominent diplomats, legislators, policymakers, and experts, including former members of President Obama’s own administration, sent a letter on June 24th expressing concern about the concessions that the administration is reportedly prepared to make. It said that the result “may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.”
The authors of the letter stated that, even when confined strictly to Iran’s nuclear program, the course of the present negotiations was leading in a direction that they could not support. And that’s not to mention the absence of any discussions as part of the negotiations regarding Iran’s ballistic missile program or its use of revenues from sanctions relief to fund its state sponsorship of global terrorism.
The authors of the letter outlined several areas for strengthening the emerging nuclear agreement. For example, the IAEA inspectors “charged with monitoring compliance with the agreement must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement.” These would include any military sites. “Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities.”
The inspectors would also need the ability to “take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear weaponization activities.”
There must be “strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment.”
And, the authors of the letter emphasized, sanctions relief “must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations. Suspension or lifting of the most significant sanctions must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement.”
Finally, containment of Iran is not a viable option. Neither is fudging what the United States will do if Iran were ever able to produce, in the authors’ words, “sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires.”
The authors added that the United States must declare now that it will not allow such an outcome to occur under any circumstances:
Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state), the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means necessary, including military force to prevent this. The President should declare this to be U.S. policy and Congress should formally endorse it.
President Obama has arrogantly brushed off any serious objections to the concessions he appears willing to make, whether the objections come from Israel and other U.S. allies or from concerned Americans, including former members of his own administration. Instead, ignoring the lessons of history, he desperately wants to be able to hold up a piece of paper signed by Iran’s leadership, which he can represent as nuclear “peace for our time.”