Iran: U.S.-Israeli Relations

Iran Again – CONTINUED: Final Part: U.S.-Israeli Relations


Howard Adelman

Several weeks ago, Samantha Power in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Operations Committee insisted that the U.S. would continue to work closely with Israel at the UN but could no longer be counted on to prevent resolutions targeting Israel to be defeated. In fact, she went further. The U.S. could not be counted on NOT to help advance such resolutions. Essentially, the U.S. might support a resolution on the Palestine-Israel peace process that would set deadlines and establish markers in working towards a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to get the negotiations back on track.  As U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned: if the new Israeli government does not demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution, the U.S. will have a difficult time halting international initiatives on the Palestinian issue at the United Nations. Since then, tit for tat followed. Netanyahu rejected Kerry’s request to visit Israel to discuss the negotiations with the Palestinians immediately after the Israeli national Elections took place.

Netanyahu’s statements leading up to election day suggesting the two-state solution was dead, and his formation of the most right-wing government Israel has ever had, put in doubt his support of a two-state solution and, hence, America’s unquestioning support for Israel in the international arena. Bibi had renounced his intentions to establish a Palestinian state as no longer relevant given recent events in the Middle East and in light of the security reality in the region. Even more unequivocally, in the dying days of the election he said that that if he becomes prime minister once again, a Palestinian state would not be created.

Hence the American reaction. U.S. support would continue, but it would henceforth be questioned. As Wendy Sherman said, “If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution that will make our job in the international arena much tougher… it will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the conflict.” After the election, Netanyahu attempted to backtrack on those statements when he said once again that he supported a two-state solution, but only if circumstances changed. However, he did not go nearly far enough in moving the U.S. away from signalling its reformulated policy.

France, which had been relatively hawkish on the Iran nuclear negotiations, was leading the initiative to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and to prepare and pass a new Security Council resolution that would both delineate the principles of determining borders (1967 borders modified by territorial exchanges) and recognize the Palestinian authority as the governing body over those territories. Israel would no longer be able to declare the territories are in dispute. Thus, Bibi’s efforts to push regime change in Tehran de facto when linked with his withdrawal of efforts to end the status quo in the West Bank became mutually reinforcing positions that triggered the shift in policy underway in the White House, especially when matched by a corresponding effort of Iran to tone down its radical rhetoric. Iran wearing a moderate face mask combined with the resurrection of Bibi’s ostensible support for the continuation of the occupation and effective support for a Greater Israel worked in tandem to undermine America’s previous position.

After all, in Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, he had pledged not to turn America’s back “on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own,” a pledge that could not be honoured if the new Bibi government remained true to its pre-election pledges and shunted sideward the pursuit of a two-state solution. Bibi might claim that he was ending the settlement freeze because his pledge on the freeze was made in tandem with the American pledge to work to increase pressure on Iran through the use of increased sanctions; when America lifted the sanctions, the new Israeli government felt free to end the settlement freeze. So the Israeli government and Washington were sending signals across each other’s bows that changes in policy were underway.

Other moves in America by Netanyahu’s allies in Congress can be viewed in terms of American Executive Power and the Israeli government traveling in ships going in opposite directions. They pause briefly to wave, professing to be mutually supportive, and follow with threats. At the same time, Bibi’s allies in Congress launched their own attacks on the White House from the rear.

The American Senate in mid-April amended the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. The bill was the most ambitious effort ever in continuing efforts to open trade. U.S. negotiations with the Asia-Pacific and the EU were advertised as an opportunity to set high standards and open markets with nearly 1 billion consumers, covering nearly two-thirds of global GDP, and 65% of global trade. Services negotiations cover about 50% of global GDP, as well, and over 70% of global services trade. But the Act included a sneaker. As an example, Section 2(b) 9 reads:

Localization Barriers to Trade: The principal negotiating objective regarding localization barriers to trade, set out in subparagraph 2(b)(9), is to eliminate and prevent measures that require U.S. producers and service providers to locate facilities, intellectual property, or other assets in a country as a market access or investment condition, including indigenous innovation measures.

These and other clauses counter the efforts of BDS to boycott goods made in the settlements; the Act de facto defined the West Bank and Israel as part of the same legal territory, thereby setting in motion the U.S. recognizing a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In another sign of a radical shift by the new extreme right-wing government in Israel, Yinon Migal has acted as the flag waver. He is a newly minted member of the Knesset in Bennett’s Jewish Home Party. He accused a former director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel, of being guilty of treason for advocating the two-state solution.  For in doing so, Liel was accused of ceding territory to a prospective sovereign state that does not now exist. Violating section 97 (d) of the penal code provides that any action to remove any area from the sovereignty of the State or to place it under the sovereignty of a foreign state with the intention to bring that about is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment. This is but another sign of the new extremism in Israel in contention with a more aggressive dovish approach from the White House.

Netanyahu’s partisanship and heightened rhetoric on the Iran nuclear prospective agreement combined with his backpedalling on the two-state solution have not brought about a collision between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has brought about a situation in which both countries are beginning to work at odds pursuing radically opposite agendas. The framework deal, if confirmed by a completed deal – very far from certain itself – has altered both the balance of power in the region and the previously balanced relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. Such a divergence will limit America’s ability to ensure that Israel can retain its nuclear deterrent without international supervision. It may also modify America’s willingness, indeed eagerness, to fund advances in Israeli missile technology and defensive capabilities.

The rhetoric from both sides insists that nothing fundamental has changed in Israeli-American relations. This is but smoke and mirrors to hide fundamental shifts already underway. For, in the view of the current American administration, the best response to Iran’s efforts is to make the deal because, if a military solution is eventually required, America will be in a better position to deliver a response than without a deal. As Netanyahu becomes more and more irrelevant on the terms of the deal to be made by the target date of 30 June and, in his impotence, becoming increasingly hysterical rather than rational, he loses even more credibility with the White House.

Bibi’s only hope to salvaging the Israeli-American tight bond is if the framework agreement falls apart over the issue of the timing of the lifting of sanctions and/or over veto proof anti-deal legislation passed in Congress. For what Netanyahu most fears is not simply that a final deal will come to fruition in spite of the difficulties still faced, but that the deal will hold and Iran will stick to its terms. Then Bibi will be truly in deep sh…  with America and with the Israeli voters as well for he will be unable to cry wolf when dealing with Iran or avoid dealing with the serious economic disparities within Israel unless saved by Kahlon.

The reality is that the P5+1 and Iran have struck a reasonably good deal, one that is far from perfect and which still faces many hurdles before and if it is finalized. But, as CIA Director John Brennan concluded, “I, for one, am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here.” I too was equally surprised. The framework agreement was both far more detailed than expected and provided more concessions by the Iranians than most observers expected. Natanz will – again if the deal comes to fruition – be the only nuclear enrichment facility. Its degree of enrichment will be strictly restricted and monitored. Fordow will be converted to a research facility. Arak will not be able to produce plutonium. The high speed centrifuges will be mothballed and even the number of slow centrifuges will be kept to 5,000 in operation, not quite the 3,000 that Israel wanted, but far better than the 19,000 available. The stock of highly enriched uranium will be gone and even the stockpile of low enriched uranium will be dramatically reduced.

The real problem for Netanyahu is that Israel will now face a much strengthened conventional foe but without any longer having the almost unquestioning support of its patron. The scenario that Netanyahu most feared is about to descend on Israel unless the deal with Iran can be sabotaged before it is completed.

And there is some potential. There are many issues to be resolved. There is not only the problem of defining when sanctions will be lifted. There is, for example, the issue of the form in which the minimally enriched uranium is to be stored. Most of the uranium enriched to almost 20% has been reduced to well below 5% and no longer exists in hexafluoride form. However, a residue (228 kg.) of enriched uranium to almost 20% continues to exit: 43 kg in oxide powder; 60 kg, that has not been irradiated slated to be used for the Tehran Research Reactor and, therefore, still available for easy conversion and further enrichment to nuclear level fuel; the remainder of the 228 kg remaining as scrap, waste or is in the process of being decommissioned.

How will the P5+1 and Iran deal with this issue since Iran is only to retain very limited amounts of uranium enriched above 3.67% sufficient for research purposes? The devil is indeed in the details. And these details are being negotiated as I write. Some will inevitably become crisis points in the discussions. Past track records suggest that solutions will be found. But perhaps not. Perhaps events will intervene and alter the tone of the negotiations. Perhaps personal animosities or spoilers will disrupt the discussions. These types of negotiations are perilous at the best of times. The Perils of Pauline look tame beside them. There will be no cakewalk to 30 June for everyone knows that if Iran retains even 50 kg. of medium enriched uranium to almost 20%, enough highly enriched uranium could be available in 8 rather than 12 months to make a nuclear weapon.

The most hawkish government in Israeli history will be trumpeting such obstacles as efforts of Iran to undercut a bad deal and make it even worse. Further, on the Palestinian front, Obama will be berated for handing over to the Palestinian Authority the internationalized right of Palestinians to govern themselves while the same authority allegedly refuses to grant Jews that right, while that authority works at delegitimizing Israel in an effort to kill the state of Israel by a thousand slices. It will not matter that these charges bear only a slight resemblance to reality. Yet those same extreme hawkish Israeli voices will agree with Bibi’s left critics that Israel will have to develop new strategies “to cope with our deteriorating relations with the U.S.” (Caroline Glick), a matter made urgent by the excellent possibility that Hilary Clinton may be the next president in a world far more volatile and lethal than when her husband was president.

What is the advice on how to cope? Not abandoning Israeli policies and strategies but reducing dependence of the U.S. Further, Bibi’s efforts to bypass the President and go directly to the American people must be enhanced. In other words, more of the same tactics, even accelerating such tactics, though it was precisely these tactics that led to the debacle in the first place.

But that will not be how Bibi’s supporters of his undiplomatic diplomacy will portray Israeli actions. Rather than pinning the tail on Israel, they will try to pin responsibility for the deterioration on Obama for ensuring that Iran becomes a member of the nuclear club. The accusation will be tossed about as if it were an established truth rather than a piece of ugly propaganda with little basis in fact or analysis. Instead, the accusers will insist that Obama administration officials in a rogue regime have led the U.S. to abandon its policy of denying Iran the right or ability to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, the White House will be portrayed as accommodating Iran’s quest to become a nuclear power, a charge so discrepant with actual facts as to make one wonder if such hysterics are real or simply the mouthings of a mad person, mad in the opposite way to the idealistic Madwoman of Chaillot, but both nevertheless totally detached from reality.

Instead, Israel will be urged to ignore the deal and go its own way militarily and strike Iran. This is the self-destructive logical conclusion of the folly of hyping Masada as a historic noble action instead of what actually happened as can best be determined by the historical record. When myth becomes the foundation of policy, self-destructive strategies are advocated. Israel will also be urged to abandon the Oslo agreement and once more take full control over the West Bank or, as the imperial Israeli hawks insist on calling the territory, Judea and Samaria. Hamas and the Israeli right will be united in their pursuit of a single-state solution, differing only on which party will control that state.

Do not expect these hysterical voices to die down. Rather they will now be propagated through megaphones while on the ground Israeli-U.S. relations will be further weakened and while Israel will be egged on to supersede one self-destructive policy with another one even more self-destructive.

This is the result of trading whispers for rants, analysis for inflammatory rhetoric and informed deliberation with deformed and virtually surrealistic portraits of the world that are figments of nightmares rather than bearing any significant correspondence with reality.



The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II


Howard Adelman


The Significance of the Agreement

Was this the “the most significant and tangible progress that we’ve made with Iran” since Obama took office? Without question since there had been no previous progress. Or was the agreement an “historic mistake”, a loss of momentum towards capitulation by Iran or the readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities by the allies?

Canada took a position somewhere between Netanyahu and Obama by emphasizing scepticism and withholding its support of the agreement until such time as Iran grants “unfettered access” to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and, further, the verification that the terms of the deal have been fulfilled. Unfortunately, although the Harper government says it is moving economic self-interest to the front in its foreign policy, in the case of Iran, it has closed its embassy and delayed the gold rush of opportunities as western companies seek to establish a foothold in the opening with Iran. At the same time, Canada abandoned its political lockstep link to Israeli policy, hence losing any advantage by the delay.


Why then did Avi Benlolo of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center support the Canadian position since Canada supported the interim agreement if there is full transparency and verification. Benolo was far more critical of the agreement and accused the P5 + 1 of being suckered by Iran’s new smiling diplomacy while Iran retained its deep antipathy to the west and remained determined to develop nuclear weapons while it bought the necessary time to progress towards that goal. The Iranian retreat for Benolo had to be the surrender not just of the nuclear program but of the support for terrorism. Canada had stipulated no such conditions.

Certainly the agreement does nothing substantive to curb Iran’s rogue status in the international community. However, the interim agreement opens wide such a possibility. The real substantive dispute is whether the interim agreement denies Iran the right to enrich uranium or whether it reified Iran’s right to enrich uranium as  President Rouhani declared? Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium for fissile material for nuclear weapons. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, claimed that Iran was not given any inherent and unfettered right to enrich uranium but concedes that Iran will likely be given a limited, completely verifiable right to have a very constrained program of enrichment for peaceful (medical) purposes.

This was not a zone of creative ambiguity because Iran retains the right to enrich uranium to 5% purity for peaceful purposes, but is explicitly denied the right to enrich uranium to 20% purity to enable Iran, with banks of centrifuges, then to increase that uranium readily to 90% purity for weapon’s grade purposes.  The agreement does NOT enshrine an apparent promise that at the end of the process, Iran would be entitled to enrich uranium as it wants, when it wants and as much as it wants. Such a charge makes nonsense of the plain text of the agreement.

In a more modest but very severe criticism, did the agreement shred six United Nations Security Council resolutions that required the Islamic Republic of Islam to abandon its enrichment program and reprocessing facilities? Not as I read the intent of the agreement to follow the interim one. Further, the UN resolutions demanded only that Iran “suspend” its nuclear enrichment program, embark on a course of confidence building measures, suspend the construction of heavy water plant at Arak for producing plutonium and ratify the IAEA additional protocol – a step which the interim agreement does not seem to require Iran to do, possibly because Iran already ratified the Protocol. The only problem is that the Iranian Congress refused to endorse it.

The first three points seem to be contained in the interim agreement. The UNSC nonbinding resolutions required a suspension of Iran’s enrichment, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. This is precisely what the interim agreement achieved. Perhaps, these successes may be inadequate, may cover up for a long term malevolent intent, but they seem to clearly fulfil both the letter and spirit of the UNSC resolutions. Previously, Iran had accelerated work on its uranium enrichment program (it had stopped in November 2004) and stopped voluntarily adhering to the Additional Protocol. The interim agreement seems to fulfil the aims of the UNSC resolutions in accordance with the goals of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006. 

Countering the Critics

This interim agreement is seen as a golden opportunity to improve relations with the West, strengthen the regime and improves its support by Iranians. That is the real threat, not the fear that the negotiations will fail. The success of the agreement for Israel and Saudi Arabia means failure.

When Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, says on CNN that, “Of course, we want to see diplomacy succeed. Of course, we’d like to see a peaceful solution. Israel, more than any other country, has an interest in a successful diplomatic outcome ultimately. We’re the first people on the firing line,” he is being somewhat disingenuous. Yes, Israel does want a proper deal, but not only to stop but dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. More importantly, and understandably, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, want a weaker Iran. Parts of the domestic population who have been persecuted for years – the Baha’is for example – concur.

The reality is that without Israel’s screams as well as threats, it is questionable whether the rest of the world would have been nearly as sensitive to the developments in Iran. Did Netanyahu build on this diplomatic success in making the world keenly alert to the Iran nuclear threat not only to Israel but to all of the Middle East and the rest of the world?  The world answered Israel’s call to impose severe sanctions. Chalk two up for Israel’s diplomatic success. However, its current belligerency, its current full frontal assault by all its ministers using inflammatory rhetoric against the agreement rather than reasoned debate may not be seen just as Israel serving as bad cop, but as Israel preparing to perform a spoiler role.

This criticism of Israel does not mean that I am no longer sceptical about Iran’s intentions. They have been clear. Iran wants to retain the ability to maintain a short gap between a break out point and their existing facilities and their negotiating stance will attempt to keep that time line as short as possible while the P5 + 1 strive to lengthen it enormously – perhaps they would be satisfied with six months or a year. The issue is not over the actual production of nuclear weapons, but the capacity to move to a break out point in short order.

Since the Iranians have now achieved that status, it is an optimum time for Iran to negotiate an ending, if possible, to their economic straightjacket. Israel and Saudi criticism is that relief from sanctions, though amounting to only six billion spread over six months, not the hundreds of billions at the end of the rainbow of a full agreement, nevertheless offers Iran wiggle room to hold out for a tough deal and minimum time to restart their program when needed and be able to produce a weapon in very short order. That is why the Saudis and Israel dub the agreement as a capitulation to a charm offensive and fraud by Iran (Minister of Defence for Israel, Moshe Ya’alon) and characterize the interim agreement as a cosmetic rather than a substantial agreement.

After all, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, continues to call Israelis rabid dogs, expresses the desire to see not only Israel disappear, but for Iran to be the agent for that event as he reiterates his desire to wipe Israel, which he repeatedly describes as a cancer, off the map. Israel and the Saudis want a total dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israelis and Saudis understandably fear that P5 + 1 would be satisfied with sufficient dismantling to lengthen the time between a resumption of its program and the ability to make a nuclear weapon only a year. For Israel and Saudi Arabia, this is insufficient. They want enough dismantling of the production capability to make it unviable. The intelligence services of the US advises the President that such a goal itself is not viable.

The Implications

So the devil will be in the details of a final agreement – the number of centrifuges permitted – perhaps only 5,000, making enrichment past 5% both prohibited but a trigger for an immediate resumption of sanctions, the dismantling or conversion of the Arak facility to a light-water reactor rather than one capable of producing plutonium.

Israel has lost in a second sense. Few believe Israel would now cross not only the Americans but every one of the world’s great economic and military powers and bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Israeli leaders continue to bellow and blow exhibiting petulance instead of considered criticisms, sound bites linked to insults, accusations and aspersions rather than a policy alternative. A more careful course of diplomatic discourse would have been welcome. At the same time, Israel used the back door to offer comments to improve the interim deal. Do those complaints advance or harm the country’s national interests? Is perpetual petulance and in-your-face bellyaching really a constructive form of diplomacy? Israel is performing its role as the bad cop like an amateur stage performer.

So the focus will be on Israeli and Saudi pressure to make the toughest deal possible, and, especially for Saudi Arabia, even risking no deal at all, and the P5 + 1 to make as acceptable a deal as possible without Iran walking away from the table, an outcome which the Israelis and Saudis would prefer. For the Saudi’s greatest fear is a realignment of the US and Iran. By contrast, no pun intended, there is a gulf between the Saudis and the UAE and Bahrain. The United Arab Emirates concluded that the interim agreement reinforced “the stability of the region” while Bahrain welcomed the removal of fear. Further, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif insisted that Iran was prepared for quick follow-up negotiations to keep the deal on track.

The interim agreement will NOT be the final agreement. However, if the final agreement does not go a significant distance beyond the interim one in dismantling Iran’s capacity, then it will have been better not to have had an interim deal at all. So the future will be the test of the past. And the negotiations are going to be very tough making the interim agreement look like a cakewalk. Further, the fears of the Gulf states will somehow have to be assuaged. After all, look at how well Iran has leveraged its nuclear program without acquiring the ability to make a single bomb. It can take on the most powerful nations of the world in eye-to-eye negotiations. The current regime is now regarded as irreversible and it is recognized for its rationality and prudence though it remains the spoiler in the region. 

What a transformation!

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part I

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part I


Howard Adelman


The Obama Announcement and the Effectiveness of Financial Sanctions

To set the tone of the debate, at the unusual hour for a Presidential address, just after 10:30 p.m. on Saturday evening, President Barack Obama appeared on television. He announced an agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5 +1 (the USA and its partners Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China + Germany) on Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement, itself based on phased and reciprocal steps, was depicted as a first initial tentative step. Obama reiterated his unwavering policy of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, not the capacity to make them. Further, Obama had always stated his preference for a diplomatic agreement rather than resorting to bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and recognized that a new opening for diplomacy emerged with the election of President Hassan Rouhani who ran on a program of opening Iran to the world. 

In 2011, after overcoming an initial strong resistance to proposals by Senator Mark Kirk, a former highly decorated naval intelligence officer, to target the Iranian Central Bank and Iranian financial institutions, America had become the leading agent in organizing the much more comprehensive sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. Soon after Obama’s TV announcement, Kirk, a Republican, partnered with Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez, to craft legislation  to reinstate the full force of sanctions and impose new ones should Iran fail to roll back its nuclear program in accordance with the agreement. Further, the bill not only requires a certificate of compliance by the Administration every 30 days, but insists that Iran not be guilty of sponsoring terrorism.


Retaining the architecture of the existing sanctions, as provided in the Agreement, retains that effectiveness, Any fear of sanctions erosion is greatly exaggerated. In targeting Iranian financial institutions and the Central Bank, traders are forced to choose between America and Iran since firms were subject to substantial fines. Those firms will not resume investment and substantial trade just for a six month interim deal. Iran has a foreign debt of over US$70 billion and a much larger domestic debt. Iranian workers wait for weeks for their pay and the number of unemployed grew as the value of the rial fell.  (After announcing the interim agreement, the value of the rial rose 2% in one day.) Even the  Iranian Revolutionary Guards support the agreement because they can enhance their profits from the 30% plus segment of the economy they control.

The Contents of the Agreement

Obama was equivocal about the results. He did not say that the agreement allowed the world to verify that Iran’s nuclear program is dedicated to peaceful uses and that it prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but only that this agreement “opens a new path” for such a result. The agreement itself does not deliver that result. Does this first step achieve anything?

Remember my past blogs depicting Iran’s current capabilities. Even though many of Iran’s centrifuge cascades are not operational, even though Iran’s enrichment program is already to a large degree on hold, even though the Arak facility is some distance from completion, Iran has achieved the goal where the time between its existing capacities and the construction of several nuclear weapons has been reduced to 4-6 weeks. The break out point had been reached; Iran has remained at this stage for the last two months. The interim agreement only extends the delay period about 50%, insignificant except symbolically in the scheme of things. Further, those modest results in freezing Iran’s progress may in part have been the consequence of the secret talks in which Iran and the US have been engaged over the last year in Oman and elsewhere.

Obama insisted that the interim agreement achieved something further. First, the progress of Iran’s nuclear program was halted (no enriching more uranium past 3.5%, etc.). Second, key parts of the program are rolled back and there would be no reprocessing or  construction for reprocessing. Third, Iran committed itself to halting certain levels of enrichment, not beginning a new line for enrichment and desisting from re-enrichment. Fourth, part of its stockpile would be neutralized; of the existing stock of enriched uranium at 20% purity, half would be retained as oxide and half diluted to no more than 5%; this is one of the most significant terms of the interim agreement. Fifth, Iran would not be permitted to use its next-generation centrifuges, important since the new centrifuges are three to five times more efficient than the older ones.

Sixth, Iran agreed to stop work on its Arak plutonium reactor; nuclear inspectors, who have not visited the Arak reactor since August 2011, have already been invited to come on 8 December to examine the state of the facility. Seventh, transparency will be built into this first step since new inspections will allow extensive (not comprehensive) access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, but sufficient access to ensure that the previous commitments can be verified. Specifically, Iran would provide an updated DIQ for the Arak reactor with an agreed safeguards approach and permit IAEA inspector access when inspectors are not present for design information verification, interim inventory verification, physical inventory verification, and unannounced inspections at Fordow and Natanz with additional access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities; and uranium mines and mills.

Do these limitations – sometimes called “interim” and at others characterized as “substantial” – help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapons? Obama insisted that these containment steps would probably prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue to advance its program. But it will not, and does not even claim to prevent or really set back significantly Iran’s ability to reach a break out point within several months if Iran decides to stop inspections after which it could produce several nuclear weapons. Further, the interim agreement does not address the Parchin facility, the military production complex south east of Teheran. The Iranian refusal to allow IAEA inspectors access to this site is a key missing link. In other words, Iran, in terms of distance from a break out point, would not be much further back than it is now.  

On the other side, the P5 +1 have agreed to provide what Obama dubbed “modest” relief from the sanctions while leaving the toughest sanctions in place which, when you read the list, does not appear so modest. They include stopping efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales, enabling Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil, enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services, suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on both Iran’s petrochemical exports and associated services as well as on gold and precious metals and associated services. The US sanctions on Iran’s auto industry and associated services would be suspended. Licensing the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for flight safety for Iranian civil aviation and associated services would be permitted.

Second, as mentioned in the first section, there would be no new nuclear-related UN Security Council sanctions or EU nuclear-related sanctions and the U.S. Administration would refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions but not threatening to impose new sanctions if Iran fails in its compliance. Third, Iran will be allowed access to a portion of the revenues to which the country had been denied as a result of the sanctions. A financial channel would be established to facilitate humanitarian trade involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad as well as used for Iran’s domestic needs employing Iranian oil revenues held abroad using specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks. Relatively quickly, the immediate result would be the payment by Indian refiners of US$5.3 billion owed to Iran, payments that had been blocked by the sanctions. The same channel would enable Iran to pay its UN obligations, direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six month period and, finally, increase the EU authorisation thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

Fourth, as stated above, the overall architecture of the sanctions will remain in place and enforcement of those sanctions will continue with vigour. As a corollary, the relief from these economic pressures can be turned off and the full weight and even more of the sanctions regime can be quickly reinstated. Then the targets of the six months of negotiations are listed. First, Iran will retain its right to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Second, at the end of the six months, it must be made impossible for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Third, the burden of proof rests on Iran to prove and permit verifiable steps that Iran will not and cannot develop nuclear weapons.

There are wider goals for this agreement which neither the interim agreement nor the longer term agreement, addresses. Supposedly, but not necessarily, by the end of six months, the role of Iran as a sponsor of terrorism, the role of Iran as a threat to Israel, the role of Iran in the Syrian civil war and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, may or may not be addressed. But the hope, and I stress ‘hope’, is that the agreement will lead Iran along a path towards a less hostile attitude and establish Iran as a reliable partner  in promoting peace. I remain very sceptical that this goal can be achieved.

At the end of the speech, Obama certainly overreached when he insisted that “only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program” when it was not diplomacy but sanctions that brought Iran to the nuclear negotiations table just as Iran faced the real possibility of a military attack.  Perhaps this was a sop in the speech targeting Russia and China for the two always opposed any inclusion of a threat of military action in a UNSC resolution, hence the reference to “only diplomacy”. If that is indeed the case, then diplomacy was but the third part of the necessary triangle to complement the military threat and the actual economic sanctions. Given the Russian and Chinese positions, diplomacy was the only mechanism endorsed by the UN. 

Further, on rereading Obama’s speech, he qualified the assertion that only diplomacy could achieve the goal with the term “ultimately”. But the truth is that ultimately, only the complete destruction of Iran’s nuclear program could terminate such a possibility.

[Continued in Part II]