Reporting on the “P5+1” talks over the last month or so suggests the administration is trying one gambit after another in a desperate attempt to strike a deal by the Nov. 24 deadline, which was extended from July 20. Now the Associated Press reports:

Ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline to seal a deal, diplomats told the AP last month that U.S. had begun floating alternates to reducing centrifuges that would eliminate the disagreement but still accomplish the goal of increasing the time Iran would need to make a nuclear weapon.
Among them was an offer to tolerate more centrifuges if Tehran agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can fuel reactors but is also easily turned into weapons-grade material. . . . Experts say the low-enriched uranium Iran has stored, if further enriched, could arm up to seven nuclear weapons. They estimate it would take Tehran between 3-to-12 months to have enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb.

“This is simply one more long slide down the slippery slope,” says former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. “No enrichment activity should be permitted as long as the ayatollahs remain in power. Every retreat from that principle  — and this is a long one  —  makes it easier for Iran to enrich to weapons-grade levels quickly and efficiently.” All of these plans share a common flaw. Bolton argues that “this entire negotiation assumes that the United States has perfect knowledge about Iran’s nuclear program, and that nothing is hidden from our view.” We obviously don’t have intelligence this sophisticated, as was proved whenever a “secret” enrichment plant eventually popped up or when the administration’s assessments of threats throughout the region turned out to be dead wrong. (If President Obama blames the intelligence community for missing the rise of the Islamic State, why should we assume we would have perfect knowledge of a concealed Iranian nuclear program?)

Moreover, to this day Iran has not allowed unrestricted  inspections of all facilities (such as the Parchin military complex where an explosion recently occurred). Iran has yet to clear up existing inspection issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency. If it is not complying now, what makes the administration think Iran won’t interfere with or throw out inspectors as sanctions are gradually lifted?

Letting Iran keep thousands of centrifuges is contrary to the position of this, the previous administration and six U.N. resolutions. The reason is obvious. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes that we would have little recourse under the scheme being floated if Iran simply decided to halt the transfer of enriched materials. “One day, it would find an excuse why it no longer can ship its [enriched uranium] to Russia and why it needs to stockpile it at home,” he said.

This idea is not even new. We tried this out when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still in office — before Iran got several more years of enrichment and development of even faster centrifuges. Michael Makovsky of JINSA explains, “If Iran shipped all or almost all of its fuel out plus accepted other restrictions on enrichment then would be welcome, but I doubt that’s what’s on the table.” Moreover if it plans to ship the materials to Russia, for example, our ability to monitor what is coming out is further limited. (Syria managed to keep some of its chemical weapons in a similar arrangement.) “The administration is struggling how to allow Iranians to adhere to their red line while reducing its nuclear program in the near-term,” says Makovsky. “And that circle isn’t easily squared especially since we’ve unilaterally reduced our leverage over last year [by partially rolling back sanctions].”

It is not clear if the current proposal is one more variation on another idea experts like  Robert Joseph,  former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has already discredited. He wrote this summer:

To break the impasse over centrifuges, the negotiators reportedly are considering a different metric to limit Iran’s uranium-enrichment capability: separative work units, or SWU, as the concept is known. . . . On the surface, SWU provides a politically defensible means to measure output for enrichment. It is a unit of calculation used widely in the nuclear-energy industry, as well as by the IAEA in its quarterly reports on Iran’s nuclear program. But using SWU as a substitute for limiting the number of centrifuges is nothing more than sleight of hand. While it is necessary for any agreement to limit how much enriched material Iran can produce and stockpile, this is not the stated U.S. goal. That goal — to extend the time of breakout — requires strict and verifiable limits on centrifuges along with additional prohibitions on next-generation replacements and effective constraints on maintenance, research, and development.

Joseph therefore concludes, “Moving away from a centrifuge limit to the SWU metric would represent the next step to a failed outcome. But whether SWU is adopted or not, if there are no restrictions on missiles, no effective constraints on R&D, only managed access on inspections, no tight controls on imports and manufacture of equipment, and other gaps that Iran can and will exploit (such as failing to come clean on past weaponization activities), the agreement will allow Iran to remain what it is today: a nuclear-weapons-threshold state.”

In sum, taking away Iran’s illicitly enriched materials (presumably without coming clean on its past military program) but not the centrifuges would be nothing more than a thinly disguised capitulation to the mullahs. Likewise, switching to a SWU metric would be conceding Iran will control the timing of its nuclear breakout. While these schemes might be acceptable to the administration, Congress will no doubt see things differently and refuse to lift sanctions. Moreover, Israel has already warned it will not be bound by (i.e. refrain from military action) by a bad deal. And a bad deal seems to be precisely what the  administration is chasing.