President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.<br />(Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press) President Obama speaks by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Pete Souza for the White House via Agence France-Press)

If you listen to the State Department briefers on the Iran talks, you quickly feel the sinking sensation that negotiators’ happy-talk is avoiding the real and insuperable barriers to reaching an acceptable agreement with Iran.  Consider this from a background briefing by a “senior official”: ” I think all I can say in answer to that question is that I’ve been doing this now for about two years, and I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before. The discussions took place in English, which has never occurred before.” Wow, in English. But did Iran agree to stop enriching? Mumble, mumble.

When it gets to whether any progress has been made, officials decline to talk publicly or they grudgingly acknowledge when asked whether the proposal was “groundbreaking”:

Given the conversation that was had, the presentation that was made, the discussion that has occurred, I’m not  sure the adjective is appropriate to the process that has taken place over the last two days. This is a beginning. Beginnings are rarely groundbreaking because you are sort of putting pieces on the table. Everybody’s laying down in some detail what their interests are. So I think, just given what the process is at the beginning of something like this, that’s probably the wrong way to look at it, to be perfectly frank.

You can feel the eagerness, the gullibility oozing forth — and therefore understand the Iranians must sense it, too. This administration is so eager to deal that they will snatch at anything (the Iranians spoke English!) and willingly revert to the very same cliches; when they talk about “mistrust” on both sides, you know the administration doesn’t fully appreciate that it is being played. The bottom line, however, is that nothing has been achieved. (“We’re not in the proposal/counter-proposal/counter-proposal stage. We’re … understanding each other’s needs, what each other is willing to do, what are the issues that have to be addressed, and how we can then put together a way forward. That’s the process that we are undergoing.” Sigh.)

A key (and in my mind, unbridgeable) gap, concerns Iran’s phony claim that it has a “right” to enrichment. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty gives signatories “the inalienable right to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty.” Even if Iran had not forfeited this right with its record of flouting international law (and it has, under no fewer than six United Nations resolutions), the administration has reiterated many times that this does not include the right to enrichment. (Fifteen countries that produce nuclear power purchase their enriched fuel elsewhere.) From public statements, it appears Iran has not given up its claim, nor will it concede that it has violated international law by maintaining a nuclear weapons program. So long as Iran adheres to these positions, there can be no progress on the suspension and destruction of its illegal weapons program or the removal of its enriched stockpile. U.S. sanctions must remain in place and, indeed, should be tightened.

One senses, then, a disconnect. The administration says it hasn’t changed its position in negotiations, we know Iran has yet to change its position and yet our negotiator exudes optimism and gushes about how well the talks are going. What is missing here? Ah — a sense of reality, a recognition that Iran is no closer to a deal now and a lot closer to a bomb than when Obama took office. This is why Congress and Israel are so concerned. Why isn’t the administration? The most likely answer is that the same negotiator who concluded phony agreements with North Korea allowing its nuclear weapons program to succeed is bound and determined to reach an agreement with Iran, even if it is as useless and, therefore, as dangerous as our deals with North Korea.