By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
March 30, 2015
For a sense of the magnitude of the
capitulation represented by Barack
Obama’s Iran diplomacy, it’s worth recalling what the president said
when he was trying to sell his interim nuclear agreement to a Washington, D.C.,
audience in December 2013.
“We know they don’t need to have an
underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful
program,” Mr. Obama said of the Iranians in an interview with Haim Saban, the
Israeli-American billionaire philanthropist. “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.”
Hardly more than a year later, on the eve of
what might be deal-day, here is where those promises stand:
Fordo: “The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of
centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for
limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other
sites.”—Associated Press, March 26.
Arak: “Today, the six powers negotiating with Iran . . . want the reactor
at Arak, still under construction, reconfigured to produce less plutonium, the
other bomb fuel.”—The New York Times, March 7.
“Iran is building about 3,000 advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges, the
Iranian news media reported Sunday, a development likely to add to Western
concerns about Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.”—Reuters, March 3.
But the president and his administration made
other promises, too. Consider a partial list:
Possible military dimensions:
In September 2009 Mr. Obama warned Iran that it was “on notice” that it
would have to “come clean” on all of its nuclear secrets. Now the
administration is prepared to let it slide.
“Under the new plan,” The Wall Street
Journal’s Jay Solomon and Laurence
last week, “Tehran wouldn’t be expected to immediately clarify all the
outstanding questions raised by the IAEA in a 2011 report on Iran’s alleged
secretive work. A full reckoning of Iran’s past activities would be demanded
in later years as part of a nuclear deal that is expected to last at least 15
Another thing the president said in that interview with Mr. Saban is that any
deal would involve “extraordinary constraints and verification mechanisms and
Foundation for Defense of Democracies Executive
Director Mark Dubowitz on the Secretary of State’s concessions to Tehran as
the nuclear-deal deadline nears. Photos: Getty Images
Iran isn’t playing ball on this one, either.
“An Iranian official on Tuesday [March 24] rebuked the chief of the U.N.
atomic agency for demanding snap inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites, saying
the request hindered efforts to reach an agreement with the world powers,”
reports the AP. But this has done nothing to dent the administration’s
enthusiasm for an agreement.
“It was never especially probable that a
detailed, satisfactory verification regime would be included in the sort of
substantive framework agreement that the Americans have been working for,” the
Economist noted last week.
In February 2014, Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator, testified to Congress
that while the interim agreement was silent on Iran’s production of ballistic
missiles, “that is indeed going to be part of something that has to be
addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.” This point is vital because
ballistic missiles are a central component of a robust nuclear arsenal.
Except missiles are off the table, too.
“Diplomats say the topic [of missiles] has not been part of formal discussions
for weeks,” the AP reported Monday.
President Obama has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. will only sign a deal that
gives the U.S. and its allies a year’s notice if Iran decides to “break
out” and go for a bomb.
But if the Iranians won’t come clean on
their past weapons’ work, it’s impossible to know how long they would really
need to assemble a bomb once they have sufficient nuclear material.
Nor does the one-year period square with the
way Iran would try to test the agreement: “Iran’s habit of lulling the world
with a cascade of small infractions is an ingenious way to advance its program
without provoking a crisis,” Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, wrote
with former IAEA deputy chief Olli Heinonen and Iran expert Ray Takeyh in a
recent Washington Post op-ed. “A year may simply not be enough time to build
an international consensus on measures to redress Iranian violations.”
Some readers may object that Iran has made its
own significant concessions. Except it hasn’t. They may also claim that the
U.S. has no choice but to strike a deal. Except we entered these negotiations
with all the strong cards. We just chose to give them up.
Finally, critics may argue that I’m being
unfair to the administration, since nobody knows the agreement’s precise
terms. But that’s rich coming from an administration that refuses to negotiate
openly, lest the extent of its diplomatic surrender be prematurely and fatally
Nearly a century ago Woodrow Wilson insisted
on “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no
private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed
always frankly and in public view.” Barack Obama prefers to capitulate to
tyrants in secret. Judging from the above, it’s no wonder.