Whatever the Ayatollah Wants


President Obama keeps giving and giving and giving.


By WSJ Staff

Wall Street Journal

April 19, 2015


Give Ayatollah Ali Khamenei credit for knowing his opposition. Two weeks ago the Supreme Leader declared that Western sanctions had to be lifted immediately as a condition of a nuclear deal. And sure enough, on Friday President Obama said Iran would get significant sanctions relief immediately upon signing a deal.

The Ayatollah knows that Mr. Obama wants an agreement with Iran so much that there’s almost no concession the President won’t make. So why not keep asking for more?


Keep in mind that the talks began with the U.S. and its European partners demanding that Iran dismantle its nuclear program. But to persuade the Ayatollah to accept the recent “framework” accord, Mr. Obama has already conceded that Iran can keep enriching uranium, that it can maintain 5,060 centrifuges to do the enriching, that its enriched-uranium stockpiles can stay inside Iran, that the once-concealed facilities at Fordow and Arak can stay open (albeit in altered form), and that Iran can continue doing research on advanced centrifuges.

All of these concessions are contrary to previous U.S. positions, and we’re no doubt missing a few. But none of that was enough for the Ayatollah, who quickly asserted two new deal-breaking objections: immediate sanctions relief, and no inspections under any circumstances of Iran’s military sites.

The White House has insisted that sanctions relief would be phased out based on Iranian compliance with the accord. Iranian negotiators quickly denied they had agreed to any such thing. At first White House spokesman Josh Earnest dismissed this as mere face-saving domestic politicking inside Iran. But then the Ayatollah weighed in with his demand for immediate sanctions relief, adding to reinforce the goodwill that the Obama Administration was “lying” and had “devilish” intentions.

On Friday Mr. Obama nonetheless turned the other cheek and suggested a compromise on sanctions relief is likely. White House sources whispered to reporters that the immediate windfall to Iran could be between $30 billion and $50 billion from access to frozen offshore Iranian accounts.

Mr. Obama even suggested at a press conference that sanctions relief wasn’t really that large an issue as long as the U.S. could reimpose sanctions if Iran cheats. “Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn’t abide by its agreement that we don’t have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to reinstate sanctions,” the President said. He added that this “will require some creative negotiations.”

It sure will. How “snap-back” sanctions would work is far from clear. The U.S. framework summary concedes that charges of cheating would go to a so far unspecified “dispute resolution process” that sounds like some kind of international committee.

That surely means foot-dragging by West Europeans who won’t want to interfere with their new commercial business with Iran, and it probably gives Russia and China an opportunity to take Iran’s side. As former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz argued recently on these pages, the U.S. would then be the isolated nation, not Iran.

The word “snap-back” in any such arrangement is spin to sell a deal, not a realistic description of the process. Mr. Obama nonetheless said on Friday that “I’m confident” the negotiations on sanctions “will be successful.” Look for more U.S. concessions on sanctions as the June deadline approaches.

As for inspections, a senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps reiterated Sunday that all military sites are off-limits. Iran’s news agency reported that General Hossein Salami, the Guards’ deputy leader, said such inspections would be “selling out” to the enemy. “Iran will not become a paradise of spies. We will not roll out the red carpet for the enemy,” he said.

This contradicts the U.S. summary of the framework accord, which claims that U.N. inspectors would have access to any “suspicious sites.” It didn’t say only non-military suspicious sites. Mr. Obama has already conceded that the inspectors would need Iran’s permission to visit certain sites, rather than having on-demand and immediate access. If military sites are off-limits, then those sites are where Iran would do the cheating when it wants to. The entire inspections regime would be an act of Western self-deception.

These latest events reinforce a conclusion that the Iranian talks are heading toward a deal that confers Western blessing on Iran as a nuclear-threshold state. Tehran will retain the facilities and means to develop a bomb at the moment of its choosing. The main question now is how many more concessions the Ayatollah will squeeze from a U.S. President he believes is desperate for a deal.