Will there ever be an Iran deal?


By Jennifer Rubin

Washington Post

April 14, 2015


The pro-Israel group JINSA is out with its Iran task force's latest report on the nuclear talks, beginning:


There is no single authoritative framework - Iran, the United States and others have offered differing official interpretations of key parameters - and the final details of a prospective comprehensive agreement remain to be hammered out. Nevertheless, the various framework agreements include notable advances - including reductions of stockpiles and stronger inspections - but also a number of serious concerns, including: Iran's ability to maintain significant enrichment capacity; the lack of resolution on possible military dimensions (PMD) and ballistic missiles; and the ultimate expiration of key restrictions after 10-15 years. Furthermore, beyond the tentative outlines of the April 2 announcements, the fundamental question remains unanswered as to how a comprehensive agreement would uphold official U.S. policy to eliminate Iran's capability to produce nuclear weapons.


The report then proceeds to ask about 50 questions that seek to probe whether there is agreement on some critical matters and, if so, what the agreement might be. For example, the task force inquires: "The Additional Protocol and Modified Code 3.1 would strengthen the inspections regime, but would they provide enough time to detect and respond to any breakout or sneakout attempt? This question is inseparable from that of breakout time." Or take the low-enrichment uranium stockpiles: 

- Sell these stockpiles on the international market;

- Ship them out for conversion to fuel rods for medical and research purposes; or


- Dilute them to unenriched (0.7 percent) natural uranium (as some Obama Administration officials have suggested)?

In a briefing Monday, task force co-chair and former ambassador Eric Edelman said bluntly, "There in fact is no agreement. What we have are fact sheets." The United States has one, Iran has one and the E.U. has one. "The problem," Edelman says, "is there are some differences, very serious differences about what has been agreed."


Even more troubling is the possibility that the Iran negotiators have no intention of making a deal or that they do not speak for the supreme leader, who decried some aspects of the U.S. fact sheet and said he wouldn't get involved in the details but said Iran would never adopt a deal without immediate sanctions relief. Iran guru Ray Takeyh pointed out that this may be that the negotiators are speaking only for President Hassan Rouhani or just the foreign minister, and in effect are not binding the ultimate authority to anything. (In any case, for all the talk of Republicans emboldening the "hard-liners," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the ultimate hard-liner and he seems awfully emboldened as things stand.)


That, in turn, goes to the issue of the nature of the regime and what it thinks negotiations are all about. If agreement does not mean agreement, then before we even get to enforcement it would be impossible to know if we have a complete meeting of the minds. You've got Iran's main player off to one side, in essence saying whatever we say his negotiators agreed to is all well and good but irrelevant.


We are here both because the president is desperate to make a deal and because he made a serious of negotiating blunders, including removing key items (e.g., the Iranian ICBM program) from the agenda, giving way on red lines, making excuses for violations of the Joint Plan of Action and forgoing pressure on a variety of fronts (e.g., new sanctions, challenging Iran on human rights and its support for terrorism). He compounded all that by letting Iran run amok in the region, which signals to friends and foes a lack of will to stand up to Tehran. We gave our leverage to the Iranians.


One school of thought is that we are far from a deal, so far that not even this administration can cave enough to secure a deal. Therefore, the JPOA can remain in place, which is not ideal and not a permanent solution but the least of the bad options. The next president can come in with a new regional policy, a new bargaining position and a credible threat of military force. All of that, the thinking goes, may be enough to pressure Iran to finally reach that "good" deal.


The other school is that many of the problems the JINSA task force members raised (the slowness of detection, resolution and enforcement of sanctions; the problem of how to bind the supreme leader) will always undermine the utility of a deal. The history of rogue states' compliance with arms deals is poor, to say the least. In an interview, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) pointed out:


There is a long and ignominious history of rogue regimes like Iran accepting these deals and immediately starting to cheat, as happened in North Korea, as happened in Iraq. The idea that a one-year breakout time-even if you thought that was technically correct-the idea that all of a sudden you're going to have inspectors catch this in a country the size of Iran, who immediately are able to report back, and then you're going to develop a consensus in the civilized world, at the [International Atomic Energy Agency] or the UN Security Council, and then you're going to impose sanctions and those sanctions will not have any effect in a year-this is just fanciful, completely fanciful. So I don't think the proposal actually improves the situation that much, and it could ultimately pave the path for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, whether they follow the proposal or violate the proposal.


If that is the case, then we may have no choice but to resort to military action. We won't know that, however, until we get a new president who can properly execute a strategy of coerced negotiation. Unless we give that a fair shot with a competent administration willing to increase pressure, hold to its positions and convey no desperation for a deal, we won't know what is possible.


What we do know is the current proposed deal is likely the worst of all the options because it is the result of self-inflicted wounds and of a mentality that sees the negotiations like a hostage situation - with us carrying bags of concessions and merely quibbling about the price. If the next president can't get a good deal, then we may have no option but to use force, but we should preserve the next president's ability to get a deal that is not a gold-plated roadway to a zero-breakout time for the Iranian regime. Otherwise, we are heading for a nuclear-capable Iran and a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region on the globe.