Kerry makes the case for action in Syria Secretary of State John F. Kerry (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

The Obama administration will sit down to talk to Iran’s representatives next week in Geneva. We must remember that these are emissaries of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who has already criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s phone call with President Obama — and not the wily Rouhani.

We saw a preview of what to expect in a Wall Street Journal report:

Iran is preparing a package of proposals to halt production of near-weapons-grade nuclear fuel, a key demand of the U.S. and other global powers, according to officials briefed on diplomacy ahead of talks in Geneva next week.

Tehran in return will request that the U.S. and European Union begin scaling back sanctions that have left it largely frozen out of the international financial system and isolated its oil industry, the officials said.

The Iranians aim is to lessen sanctions without giving up existing enriched fuel or destroying facilities. As an official with a pro-Israel organization explained, ” he reality is that Iran has installed so many advanced centrifuges since Rouhani’s election, they can now up-enrich their 3.5% uranium to make a bomb in the same time as it would have taken using 20% just a few months ago. That means they could make an ‘undetectable breakout’ between IAEA inspections. Unless they ship out all their material, among other things, it’s all meaningless..”

Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has made precisely this point for some time now. In January, he warned:

Accordingly, the amount of additional work required to increase either 4% or 20% enriched-uranium stockpiles to weapons-grade levels is of little consequence. The Non-Proliferation Education Center estimates the difference between the two reactor-grade levels to be only about three weeks of further enrichment for enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear device. As the Wisconsin Project
on Nuclear Arms Control explains, “In either case, further enrichment to weapon-grade would take a matter of weeks or months, depending on the number of centrifuges devoted to the task.”

In seeking a superficially reasonable deal, the West thus made a senseless concession by allowing enrichment even to 4%. Enrichment to any higher level will require mere baby steps to reach the Tehran regime’s nuclear-arms
destination. This problem cannot be solved by international inspections. Tehran would simply be too close to a “break-out” point that it could quickly achieve after expelling inspectors.

Once Iran is legitimized for enriching to reactor-grade levels—contrary to multiple Security Council resolutions requiring the cessation of all enrichment-related activities—any remaining possibility of stopping it from
making nuclear weapons effectively disappears.

So what does the United States do? First of all, what the Iranians say and what appears in U.S. media designed to feed the notion of “progress” are two different things. Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells me, “We have not yet seen whatever proposals the Iranians are reportedly preparing. I expect that when we do, we will find that they do not significantly slow, much less stop, the regime’s drive to develop a nuclear weapons capability.” He adds, “I hope to be proven wrong, but I’m willing to give odds that I’m not.”

But even if the offer matches the news report, the answer, as a former U.S. official critical of the administration explains, is to “start with the U.N. resolution: No enrichment at all until they regain trust and confidence by years of compliance.” This will also require full disclosure of their warhead work.

In short, Iran relinquishes its stock of enriched uranium and stops all further enrichment. Continued enrichment work or continued possession of enriched material would allow Iranian scientists to reconstitute their nuclear program and quickly produce weapons-grade material. All of this has to be subject to inspections. Unless and until we accomplish that, the talks are useless and there can be no letup in the sanctions — unless the president is willing to sign any deal to get this issue off his table and to inhibit Israel from taking necessary action to eliminate a threat to itself, the region and the United States.