Just when you think things can’t get any worse in the P5+1 talks, along comes this news:
Russia signed a contract Tuesday to build two more nuclear reactors in Iran to be possibly followed by another six, a move intended to cement closer ties between the two nations. . . . Nuclear officials from the two countries signed a contract Tuesday for building two reactors at Iran’s first Russia-built nuclear plant in Bushehr.
Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia’s Rosatom state corporation, and Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi also signed a protocol envisaging possible construction of two more reactors in Bushehr and another four in an undetermined location.
“It’s a turning point in the development of relations between our countries,” Salehi said after the signing, according to Russian news reports.
Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes, “The agreement should mean Iran has no need for an enrichment agreement since Russia will provide the fuel for these reactors.” But Iran is unlikely to see things that way, and worse, Russian President Vladimir Putin may be about to spring another trap on the West. “This could be bad if [the] Rosatom deal sets up justification for Iran to enrich, and then to send it to Russia to fabricate fuel,” Dubowitz says. “Even if that’s not the case, a country in flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions still would receive reactors and nuclear fuel without meeting its non-proliferation obligations.”
Other Iran experts agree that this sends the wrong message at the wrong time. Michael Makovsky, chief executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), tells me that “it certainly is not constructive at a very sensitive time in the talks with Iran, when we need to be seeking a significant reduction if not elimination of its existing nuclear program, which remains the most pressing issue.” He adds, “It undermines the P5+1 unity, and reduces Iran’s isolation. Indeed, as the Obama Administration offers more and more concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks, while seeming to realign US foreign policy in the Mideast toward Iran and away from our traditional Israeli and Arab allies, we must expect a loosening of this unity.”
It comes as no surprise then that Iran isn’t inclined to give up its nuclear ambitions. The Post reports, “Talks resumed Tuesday in Oman’s capital, Muscat, with various envoys after meetings that included Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. A senior State Department official described the tenor of the Kerry talks as ‘tough, direct and serious’ but declined to characterize them as productive. The official said, however, that negotiators still think it is possible to reach a comprehensive accord before the deadline.”
Unfortunately, our Iran policy is not tough, direct or serious. The president is so desperate for a deal that Russia is in effect placing a bet with Iran and helping to relieve the pressure the P5+1 needs to obtain its stated goal. The president insisted for six years that containment was not our policy. But this is in effect what we are seeing. Iran gradually wears down the West, escapes from economic and political isolation and keeps its nuclear capability. A nuclear-capable Iran will haunt the region for years to come, probably spur an arms race and cement the view that no matter what the American president says, he can be had.