Iran’s Indecent Proposal
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
October 26, 2015
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of
Action—better known as the Iran nuclear deal—was officially adopted Sunday,
Oct. 18. That’s nine days ago. It’s already a dead letter.
Not that you would have noticed by
reading the news or tuning in to State Department or White House briefings.
It’s too embarrassing to an administration that has invested all of its
diplomatic capital in the deal. Also, too inconvenient to the commodity
investors, second-tier banks, European multinationals and everyone else who
wants a piece of the Iranian market and couldn’t care less whether Tehran
honors its nuclear bargain.
Yet here we are. Iran is testing
the agreement, reinterpreting it, tearing it up line by line. For the U.S.—or
at least our next president—the lesson should be clear: When you sign a
garbage agreement, you get a garbage outcome.
Earlier this month Iran test-fired
a new-generation ballistic missile, called Emad, with an estimated 1,000-mile
range and a 1,600-pound payload. Its only practical military use is to deliver a
nuclear warhead. The test was a bald violation of the Security Council’s
Resolution 2231, adopted unanimously in July, in which “Iran is called upon
not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be
capable of delivering nuclear weapons” for at least eight years.
Then Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
weighed in on the nuclear deal by way of a public letter to President Hassan
Rouhani. “The behavior and words of the U.S. government in the nuclear issue
and its prolonged and boring negotiations,” he wrote, “showed that [the
nuclear issue] was also another link in their chain of hostile enmity with the
The Supreme Leader’s comments on
the nuclear deal have been billed by some reporters as a cautious endorsement of
the agreement. Not exactly. They are a unilateral renegotiation of the entire
deal, stipulating that the U.S. and everyone else must accept his rewrite—or
The best analysis of Mr.
Khamenei’s demands comes from Yigal Carmon and Ayelet Savyon of the Middle
East Media Research Institute. Demand One: The U.S. and Europe must completely
lift, rather than temporarily suspend, their economic sanctions, putting an end
to any possibility that penalties could “snap back” in the event of Iran’s
noncompliance. Demand Two: Sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorism
and its human-rights abuses must also go, never mind the Obama
administration’s insistence that it will continue to punish Iran for its
Next Mr. Khamenei changes the
timetable for Iran to ship out its enriched uranium and modify its plutonium
reactor in Arak until the International Atomic Energy Agency gives Iran a pass
on all “past and future issues (including the so-called Possible Military
Dimensions or PMD of Iran’s nuclear program).” So much for the U.N. nuclear
watchdog even pretending to monitor Iran’s compliance with the deal. He also
reiterates his call for a huge R&D effort so that Iran will have at least
190,000 centrifuges when the nuclear deal expires.
“The set of conditions laid out
by Khamenei,” Mr. Carmon and Ms. Savyon note in their analysis, “creates a
situation in which not only does the Iranian side refrain from approving the
JCPOA, but, with nearly every point, creates a separate obstacle, such that
executing the agreement is not possible.”
That’s right, though it
doesn’t mean Mr. Khamenei intends to stop negotiating. Instead, like in some
diplomatic version of Lord Beaverbrook’s indecent proposal—“Madam, we have
established what you are; now we’re just haggling over the price”—Mr.
Khamenei has discovered what the administration is. Now he wants to pocket the
concessions he has already gained and wheedle for a bit more.
Little wonder that Iran has upped
the contempt factor since the agreement was signed. A day after the missile
test, Iran convicted Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. On Monday came
reports that Iran may have arrested an Iranian-American businessman in Tehran.
Expect similarly brutish insults in the months ahead, all to underline how
little Mr. Khamenei thinks of the American president and his outstretched hand.
As for the administration, it
would be nice to imagine that it is starting to sense the Ayatollah’s disdain.
But it isn’t. The missile test was met by a wan effort to take “appropriate
action” at the U.N., whatever that might be. Mr. Khamenei’s letter has been
met with almost complete silence, as if ignoring it will make it go away.
Perhaps none of this matters. For
all the promises and warnings about the Iran deal, it is nothing more than
surrender dressed up as diplomacy. The correlation of forces in the Middle East
has shifted in the past year, and Mr. Obama will not lift a finger to restore
the balance. Mr. Khamenei knows this, and he is not about to give the U.S. a
dignified surrender. Then maybe Mr. Obama knows it, too. He doesn’t seem to
mind the ignominy.