Some “snag.” That is how a Reuters headline characterizes its report that there is an impasse in talks with Iran over the implementation agreement for an interim deal:
Negotiations between Iran and six world powers on implementing a landmark November deal to freeze parts of Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions have run into problems over advanced centrifuge research, diplomats said.
The dispute over centrifuges highlighted the huge challenges facing Iran and the six powers in negotiating the precise terms of the November 24 interim agreement. If they succeed, they plan to start talks on a long-term deal to resolve a more than decade-long dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Among the issues to be resolved in political discussions due to begin in Geneva later this week is that of research and development of a new model of advanced nuclear centrifuge that Iran says it has installed, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Centrifuges are machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in atomic power plants or, if purified to a high level, weapons.
“This issue (centrifuges) was among the main factors in stopping the previous technical discussions on December 19-21,” a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Other Western diplomats confirmed that centrifuges remained a “sticking point” in the talks with Iran but noted that last month’s discussions were understandably adjourned ahead of the December holidays – not because of the centrifuge issue.
The White House will never admit talks have broken off. That would confirm critics’ conclusion that this is all a giant stall by Iran to allow it to progress with its nuclear weapons program while getting sanctions relief. So far, the mullahs are achieving exactly what they want. And the Obama team oversold what it had achieved, a former U.S. official critical of the administration says, giving pro-sanctions lawmakers every reason to pass new legislation.
The centrifuge issue is no small matter. Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has been closely involved in sanctions development and implementation. He tells me, “Permitting Iran to conduct research and development on advanced centrifuges is a dangerous proposition and fundamentally at odds with a peaceful civilian nuclear program. The verification of Iran’s current centrifuge production capabilities is already sufficiently challenging without opening the door to Iranian development of even smaller and more efficient centrifuges that are easier to hide.” He adds, “This is further proof — as if more evidence is needed — that Iran is building an industrial-size nuclear infrastructure that will give it multiple overt and covert pathways to a bomb.”
It tells us several other things as well.
First, the interim deal is not a deal at all but a unilateral gift of sanctions relief for a deal that is vague and incomplete and that may never be implemented. Either president Obama was snookered or he is snookering us, trying to erect a barrier to military action by Israel and/or further sanctions by Congress.
Josh Block, a longtime Democrat and head of the Israel Project, observes via an e-mail to Right Turn, “Clearly there is growing concern and realization that the ‘interim deal’ is actually just another stalling tactic by Iran, but worse, one we are paying Iran billions of dollars to perpetrate. The six month ‘deal’ was announced in November, so either that is the moment the 6 month clock started or there is no ‘deal’ at all.”
Second, those demanding a new round of sanctions, including 53 Senate Democrats and Republicans co-sponsoring sanctions legislation, again have been proven to be savvier about the Iranians than the president and his State Department. Without reimposition of sanctions and passage of stringent banking sanctions, Iran will merely continue its pattern of delay, obfuscation and wordsmithing. The number of co-sponsors is up to 51, enough to pass the Senate by a majority; word of this latest Iranian gambit may persuade others to join. (The timing of a vote is still up in the air, although the delay has given pro-sanctions senators time to make their case and gain proof of Iran’s mendacity.) As Block put it, “Congress is not fooled. The American people are not fooled. Iran is playing us for the fool. Only more pressure backed by the credible threat of military force will bring Iran to recognize the costs of keeping their program outweigh any benefit.”
Third, the latest news is another blow to an administration already low on credibility. They had an “agreement,” but not really. And the document said Iran’s right to enrich would be the subject of mutual agreement in a final deal. Even this news reveals more spinning, as the State Department briefing yesterday revealed:
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say to the senators that haven’t committed yet, given the fact that – actually this morning, it’s now 51, so the bill could pass?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our position on this hasn’t changed. It’s the argument that the Secretary – that Under Secretary Sherman and many Administration officials have been making to Congress, which is that new sanctions in any capacity would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. We continue to strongly oppose any action taken by members of Congress which we feel is unnecessary and directly contradicts the Administration’s work to resolve the concerns about the Iranian nuclear program peacefully.
And the other piece of this that’s very important is the Secretary, the President of the United States, were two of the strongest advocates for sanctions and the effectiveness of sanctions. That’s one of the major reasons why we’re here. And if we got to a point where we needed to put new sanctions in place, they would be leading the charge, and I don’t think anyone thinks there would be a challenge in passing sanctions.
So the question is: Why risk this important pivotal stage we’re at by putting new legislation in place?
QUESTION: Right, and the Iranian point of view on this is that enacting new legislation is a violation of the Joint Plan of Action. Is that – does the Administration have the same perspective that enacting new legislation is the same as imposing? And I cite that the Joint Action Plan says the U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. It doesn’t say “enacting.” It says “imposing.” Are those the same?
MS. PSAKI: As I understand it, putting new legislation in place would be – would violate it. Obviously, if the President were to veto it, then it’s not being put in place. So — . . .
QUESTION: On the answer to the penultimate question, is that supposed to mean that you – that the Administration believes that giving the President authority to impose new sanctions is the same as imposing sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: No, I was saying the opposite of that; that obviously, if sanctions legislation is not put in place. Putting new sanctions legislation in place is the question.
QUESTION: Yeah. But the —
QUESTION: Jen —
MS. PSAKI: And implementing it.
QUESTION: No, but the legislation that’s being discussed doesn’t impose new sanctions; it gives the President authority to impose sanctions. Isn’t that correct? And your line of – by your line of reasoning, granting authority is the same as imposing them, and thus a violation under the agreement.
MS. PSAKI: I did not mean to make that point. . . .
The administration’s evasion and refusal to carry through on its own stated policy (hike sanctions until Iran comes into compliance with United Nations resolutions) are depressingly obvious. This is why Congress needs to step forward and exercise leadership. If not, Iran will have gotten the bomb, relief from sanctions, encouragement for its hegemonic ambitions and a nuclear blackmail card. In fact, it’s most of the way there.