Why France is threatening to back out of the agreement.
In what should be a surprise to no one, the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program haven’t been going very well. The agreed-upon “deadline” is about a month away, but no one expects it to be met. The only question is just how many concessions President Obama, leading the “P5+1” group of countries, is willing to make for the sake of any deal at all.
In the “framework” deal of April 2nd, Iran apparently agreed to allow inspections of its “suspicious” nuclear sites. But a week ago, the Supreme Leader of the nation, Ali Khamenei, backed off any such promise and swore to prohibit anything of the sort. He said this during a speech he made Tuesday to military leaders in his capital:
The impudent and brazen enemy expects that we allow them talk to our scientists and researchers about a fundamental local achievement but no such permission will be allowed…No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed….I will not allow foreigners to interview — which is tantamount to interrogation — the prominent beloved scientists and sons of this nation.
The other non-agreement is over when sanctions against Iran would be relieved. The West believes that Iran’s access to money and credit and trade should be granted over time, as Iran verifies its disarmament. Iran wants to be relieved of sanctions immediately upon signing the deal.
But this week, it seems, even the P5+1 position is fracturing. In what seems as much a warning to President Obama and John Kerry as it is to Iran, France announced that unless Iran agrees to inspections at “all” Iranian sites, including military sites, it could not participate in any deal. Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, told his Parliament Tuesday: "Yes to an agreement, but not to an agreement that will enable Iran to have the atomic bomb.” An agreement "will not be accepted by France if it is not clear that verifications can be made at all Iranian facilities, including military sites," said Fabius.
It is somewhat odd to see France adopting the hardline position and the USA taking the “deal at any price” position, but such is the new reality: no such “clarification” of the absolute necessity of nation-wide inspections was issued by the US State Department.
Even the UN is out in front of John Kerry. Monday, Yukiya Amano, chairman of the UN's nuclear monitoring agency (the IAEA), reminded the world that Iran (on April 2nd) had already agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows for snap inspections.
"When we find inconsistency or when we have doubts, we can request access to the undeclared location for example, and this could include military sites," said the Japanese diplomat.
These clarifications of France and the IAEA put the Obama Administration in a bind: they set the bottom threshold beyond which no consensus in the P5+1 is possible. Without “anywhere, anytime” inspections, Iran is essentially free to pursue its nuclear bomb in secret, all the while denying the obvious, and free of sanctions in the bargain. Such a deal would essentially pay Iran to develop its nukes with the new money from sanctions relief.
Perhaps that’s the whole goal of the Obama Administration. If so, it would be hard to distinguish the public statements and negotiating stance from its actual, current positions taken. Congress, which can in theory repudiate any such agreement, would do well to remember the lamentable experience of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which actually did agree to snap inspections after the Gulf War.
Christopher S. Carson, a lawyer, holds a master’s in National Security Studies.
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