Monitoring and Verifying the JPA in a Duplicitous Environment
I have lost track of the number of times that I have been asked why I tied Argentina into the “discussions” between Israel and the U.S. and the negotiations between Iran and the U.S. over the nuclear issue. The parallelism in the roots of anti-Semitism in both Argentina and Iran seemed a stretch. The evidence for Iran bombing the Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aries in 1994 seemed a long time ago and, further, did not appear to have any connection with nuclear materials, even if the bombing constituted an argument for Iran’s determined, venomous and lethal manner of conducting foreign policy. Though the possibility that Iran was planning a similar attack last year in Montevideo, Uruguay certainly raised a red flag, it seemed to reflect on Iran’s overseas intelligence agency that would target civilians and not its nuclear policy. Two days ago, the diplomatic connection was made. Argentina formally asked the U.S. to include the issue of the 1994 bombing within the nuclear negotiations. I could say that I anticipated this connection, but I did not.
As I am prone to say, FAT CHANCE! Argentine courts may have accused a group of Iranians of planning the attack on the AMIA Jewish community centre that killed 85 people, and Iran’s intelligence service may even have had a hand in the murder of Alberto Nisman, but why would that instigate Argentina’s Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman, to send a letter to John Kerry to make a request made previously. “I am asking you again that the AMIA issue be included in the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The answer I think is simple, since Argentina does not really expect the Obama administration, given the importance this administration has placed on the negotiations with Iran, to actually push to have that item on the agenda when no provision was made for adding new agenda items under negotiation in the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) agreed to by Iran. President Cristina Férnandez and Héctor Timerman very badly need to divert the focus on them brought about because they have been accused of conspiring with Iran to whitewash the crime in order to clinch a grains-for-oil deal. This is not about electioneering since Férnandez is constitutionally barred from running in October for a third consecutive term. This is also not just about their historical legacy. Both do not want to be accused let alone tried for a criminal conspiracy.
But why make such an obviously fruitless effort? As Jen Psaki diplomatically replied on behalf of the U.S. State Department, she was unaware of any plans to raise the AMIA issue in the negotiations. Because Férnandez and Timerman believe that Mossad, and, perhaps, even the CIA, are behind the effort to shift the focus of anger for the unresolved AMIA bombing on them by delivering to Alberto Nisman allegedly incriminating evidence that there had been such a deal. I suspect, and I only suspect for I have absolutely no evidence for it, that Férnandez and Timerman both believe that Iran was behind Nisman’s killing. Finding Iran responsible is not the problem for them. But if that investigation leads back to connecting them to a deal with Iran to shift the investigation to the side because of an oil-for-grain deal, that would be a very serious problem subjecting both to being charged for criminal conspiracy to hide a crime, even if they were never proven guilty of that charge.
However, this blog is not intended to be a whodunit. It is more of an inquiry into what is really going on and a whydunit. Shifting now back to the substance of the negotiations is necessary, but I will try to tie all loose ends together, and well before the June deadline for doing this in the nuclear negotiations. Before I undertake the comparison, Machiavellian diplomacy requires that a person talk out of two sides of his/her face at one and the same time. My analysis in my last blog suggested that the pro-Iranian thrust of the preamble of JPA might have been deliberate in order to allow Iran to be boxed in tighter than otherwise might be the case by the substantive clauses. Those specific regulations are about performance rather than intentions, but unless viewed through the lenses of possible malevolent intent, then the only assessment will be of the performance relative to the term of agreement and not to the issue of the test itself which, in the end, is intended to examine intent and ensure behaviour conforms to that intent. But that latter issue must in turn be placed within a more general context.
The current Iran regime has been conducting a pro-Jewish (definitely not pro-Zionist) public relations campaign to offset the widespread image of the Iran power-brokers as uniformly anti-Semitic. Mair Javendafar, a Jew originally from Iran who teaches Contemporary Iranian Politics in Israel, documented that offensive in a recent article in Al-Monitor entitled, “Rouhani accommodates Iran’s Jewish students.”
President Hassan Rouhani as of 4 February made what had been an emerging practice official – Jewish students no longer are required to attend school on Shabat, a decree that resurrected a practice initiated right after the 1979 revolution but did not last. A year ago, Rouhani’s government donated $400,000 to the Jewish charity hospital. In December, he also unveiled a memorial to Jewish soldiers who died in the Iraq-Iran war. As well as attending such memorials, Ali Younesi, Rouhani’s special assistant, visits synagogues and other Jewish institutions. In the meanwhile, a second Holocaust denial cartoon exhibition is being organized in Tehran, so President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s heritage is still alive and well. After all, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also called the Holocaust a hoax. All this is for a population that now numbers less than 9,000. In 1979, when Iran severed relations with Israel, the Jewish population there totaled 80,000, mostly in Tehran. So what is the relationship between these recent pro-Jewish initiatives, Iran’s virulent anti-Israeli stance and the nuclear negotiations?
A similar dual track process is visible in Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu. When Netanyahu addressed the UN in September, Obama had a private discussion with Netanyahu over their differences, but only after Obama went through a barrage of denials that he was snubbing Netanyahu and refusing to meet with him. The Israeli press reported that the White House had turned down a request for a meeting while the White House issued a statement that no request had been made. One brouhaha follows another, and each one ending in an affirmation from the White House that American ties with Israel are deep and abiding.
In one case, the head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, was reported as even opposing additional sanctions against Iran. However, in a 19 January meeting, Pardo absolutely denied that he had said any such thing. Quite the contrary. He insisted that the sanctions had been very effective and were the key instruments that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Further, Pardo agreed with a carrot and stick approach to negotiating with Iran rather than a confrontational posture based on absolute demands. Pardo’s criticism was about the absence of a sufficiently large stick in pressuring Iran. That stick, he insisted, should include stopping the talks and resuming under better parameters. He reinforced Kissinger’s critique that the parameters of the talks were flawed. What I wanted to emphasize here is the continuing disinformation war surrounding the negotiations. Thus, normally astute reporters, such as David Ignatius of the Washington Post, is used as a conduit to get out the message that the Obama White House had decided to cut out the Israelis from any briefing on the negotiations, and then, subsequently, the White House denies there was any truth to the story. This exercise in simulation diplomatic warfare is part of the fog of diplomatic war.
We know the following. Before negotiations even opened on the basis of the JPA in November 2013, Obama and Netanyahu were at loggerheads over the Iran negotiations. America’s goal was to extend the breakout period for construction of a nuclear weapon to at least one year, not, as many Republican critics contend, that this had been a change in policy from the original goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons altogether – a goal few viewed as achievable without bringing down the regime. Israel’s goal was to end the ability of Iran to produce nuclear weapons ever. Henry Kissinger in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee cited the UNSC resolution “to deny Iran the capability to develop a military option.” True, but hardly revealing since the issue was how best to operationalize that goal, by instituting inspections and oversights and extending Iran’s breakout period for a year or by insisting that Iran’s nuclear program in its entirely be dismantled, a goal which the JPA explicitly rejected as unrealizable. Does one opt for conflict prevention which would require a much higher level of confrontation, or conflict management at a much lower level of engagement?
In January, in a phone call between Obama and Netanyahu, Obama had asked Netanyahu to hold his diplomatic firepower while negotiators explored whether Iran would agree to a deal that limited centrifuges and stockpiles in order to extend the breakout period for Iran to at least a year. Netanyahu responded to the American negotiating position that a year wasn’t enough; he repeated Israel’s hardline insistence that Iran should not be allowed any centrifuges or enrichment. There had been two additional differences in the background. As already mentioned, Obama seemed willing to permit Iran to become a regional power and even recently endorsed such a proposition. That possibility made Israel (and Saudi Arabia) apoplectic. Israel wanted to reign in and, hopefully, eliminate Iran’s ability to send missiles to Israel; the JPA made no reference to missiles. In addition, Kissinger criticized the two developments as leading to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East so that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be pressured to begin a process of developing a capability for making nuclear weapons.
The implication that this week’s simulated exercise in diplomatic warfare arose because Netanyahu had released information about the American goal of a one-year breakout period, is nonsense. Anyone who did any reading on the matter knew this and has known this for at least a year. (See my previous two blogs on the progress of the negotiations.) One did not need Netanyahu to learn about this. The White House in January had not only asked, but urged Netanyahu to hold his diplomatic firepower when Israeli intelligence had concluded that a deal was now possible and even imminent. Netanyahu determined to scuttle the deal. While the negotiations had been continuing previously and success was not imminent – rather failure seemed in the offing – Netanyahu had held most of his fire. That phase was over. Netanyahu and his Republican allies in Congress were explicitly out to kibosh the agreement before it was too late. The issue was not over the specifics – whether Iran would be allowed to retain 6,500 or 7,000 centrifuges, but over the deal itself.
To repeat. The issue is that the deal now seems not only possible but imminent. For allowing Iran to retain its centrifuges that would allow it in a year to upgrade its uranium to weapons grade, had all along been unacceptable to Netanyahu, let alone the absence of any limits on Iranian missile development. Piled on these old schisms is now a new one. The White House now seems determined to lift sanctions without Congressional approval if it gets the deal it wants rather than face certain defeat by presenting the deal negotiated to the Senate for ratification.
The issue is even larger. The Iranian religious regime is opposed to liberalism and Western values, but has fully embraced its technology, except when the electronic revolution threatens its system of corruption and authoritarianism, its repression of rights and freedoms. Any deal agreed to now will strengthen Iran’s preservation of its Manichean world view which has focused on Zionism as the fundamental source of all evil, the Small Satan for which America, the Great Satan, is its major tool. This stance, if it is the governing one, will, in the end, sabotage the Iranian government’s current genuine efforts in engagement with the outside world even if the intentions of the current Iranian government are really just to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. As the critics of the negotiations chime, if you believe that, then you believe pigs can fly.
There is one final contextual issue – the timing of sanctions. Iran is currently in a terrible position economically and very sensitive to external pressure given both the low price of oil and the internal weaknesses of a kleptocratic economy of rent seekers where many of the large firms are in the hands of Iranian extremists who use those businesses both to fund their political agendas as well as for personal gain. Just this week, Iran’s Central Task Force to Combat the Smuggling of Commodities and Currency pointed to corruption as a key factor behind Iran’s high inflation and high unemployment rate. Smuggling is used not only to get around sanctions, not only to feed personal greed, but to feed a dissident apolitical underground interested in cigarettes, cell phones, cosmetics, music, dance, films, alcohol and drugs. So there is a weird interdependency between the religious puritans and the secular cultural dissidents in the dependency of both on smuggling totaling over $25 billion.
How has Iran behaved since the JPA was agreed to in November 2013? For the process of negotiations, the practices of providing transparency and rules for ensuring that transparency must be assessed in order to weigh one way or another for anyone who sees a rationale in both perspectives to decide which of the alternative strategies to follow.
The JPA provided that Iran would undertake the following voluntary measures:
- From the existing uranium enriched to 20%, Iran could retain half as working stock of 20% oxide for fabrication of fuel for the TRR while the remaining 20% UF6 had to be diluted to no more than 5%
- There had to be no reconversion line
- Iran must confirm that it will not enrich uranium over 5% during the six months
- Iran must not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant1, Fordow2, or the Arak reactor3, designated by the IAEA as IR-40
- When the line for conversion of UF6 enriched up to 5% to UO2 is ready, Iran has to convert that to oxide UF6 newly enriched up to 5% during the 6 month period
- No new locations for enrichment are to be developed
- Iran will continue safeguarded R&D practices, including enrichment R&D practices, as provided in the operational schedule of the conversion plant declared to the IAEA
- No reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of reprocessing
- There will be enhanced monitoring.
In addition to the above undertakings, provision was made for specified information to be provided to the IAEA, including information on Iran’s plans for nuclear facilities, a description of each building on each nuclear site, a description of the scale of operations for each location engaged in specified nuclear activities, information on uranium mines and mills, and information on source material. This information would be provided within three months of November 2013.
Iran was also required to submit an updated and completed Design Information Questionnaire for the purposes of conducting a building inspection (a DIQ) for the reactor at Arak (IR-40) to the IAEA. Iran had to agree to conform to an IAEA Safeguards Standards for IR-40. When inspectors are not present at a facility, Iran had to allow daily IAEA inspector access for DIQ verification, Interim Inventory Verification (IIV), Physical Inventory Verification (PIV), and unannounced inspections, for the purpose of access to offline surveillance records at Fordow and Natanz. IAEA has to have access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities; and uranium mines and mills.
Five other measures for assessing Iran’s intentions and performance were put in place:
1 During the 6 months, for centrifuges that have been installed but not currently enriching uranium, Iran will not feed UF6 into them.
- Any replacements of centrifuges will be of the same type.
- At Fordow:
- there will be no further enrichment over 5% at 4 cascades now enriching uranium
- enrichment capacity will not be increased
- Iran will not feed UF6 into the other 12 non-operative state cascades
- There will be no further interconnections made between cascades
- Any replacements of existing centrifuges will be of centrifuges of the same type.
- At Arak, for 6 months, Iran will not:
- commission the reactor
- transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor site
- will not test additional fuel
- will not produce more fuel for the reactor
- will not install remaining components.
- Iran’s centrifuge production during the 6 months will be dedicated to replacing damaged machines.
Without yet assessing whether Iran complied with any or all of these provisions, it is clear that these are about halting a process underway of producing military-grade nuclear fuel whatever the protestations of Iran about its commitment to exclusive peaceful use of nuclear energy. Further, it is also clear that that these were interim steps to assess sincerity by Iran and to provide a foundation for further transparency and monitoring Iranian compliance. Finally, it is also clear that the negotiations are not about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program altogether.
How did Iran perform in the first six months? What quid pro quo in lifting sanctions did the West undertake and put into effect?
Tomorrow: The First Six Months of Compliance with the JPA