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AS WE GO TO PRESS: NUCLEAR TALKS WITH IRAN COULD EXTEND TO WEDNESDAY, NEGOTIATORS SAY — With a deadline just hours away, negotiators from the United States, Iran and five other nations appeared on Tuesday to be struggling to move closer to a preliminary accord to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, and signaled that they might be prepared to work into Wednesday. Even if an agreement is struck, there have been signs that several of the most difficult issues will be deferred for a final agreement in three months. After working for a full day with foreign ministers from most of the seven nations involved in the talks — the exception was Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, who arrived in the afternoon after declaring “the chances are high” for an agreement — a senior State Department official indicated that progress had been insufficient…Any accord that is reached will be, by design, an interim instrument that might be devoid of some specifics that the United States Congress, Israel, Arab states, and Iran’s military and hard-liners have been worried about. (Globe & Mail, Mar. 30, 2015)
The Capitulationist: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 30, 2015 — For a sense of the magnitude of the capitulation represented by Barack Obama’s Iran diplomacy, it’s worth recalling what the president said when he was trying to sell his interim nuclear agreement to a Washington, D.C., audience in December 2013.
Rewarding Iran with a Bad Deal: Amir Fakhravar, Real Clear World, Mar. 31, 2015— Concerns with the deal designed to curb with the Islamic Republic's nuclear program have centered around the long-term dangers of the agreement.
Iran Keeps Its Nuclear Secrets: Wall Street Journal, Mar. 27, 2015 — With days to go until the deadline for the Iran nuclear talks, the list of the skeptical is growing.
Violating Nuclear Arms Treaties Isn’t Something the World Takes Seriously. Just Ask Putin: Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post, Mar. 25, 2015 — The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, told his Iranian counterpart that “the nuclear talks have reached the final sprint in the marathon.”
Iran Militia Chief: Destroying Israel is ‘Nonnegotiable’: Lazar Berman, Times of Israel, Mar. 31, 2015
Iran’s Supreme Leader Holds Key to Nuclear Deal: Jay Solomon & Laurence Norman, Wall Street Jouranl, Mar. 30, 2015
The Gaping Holes in Obama’s Iran Deal: Emily B. Landau, Globe & Mail, Mar. 5, 2015
How America Bamboozled Itself About Iran: Jordan Chandler Hirsch, Commentary, Mar. 23, 2015
Wall Street Journal, Mar. 30, 2015
For a sense of the magnitude of the capitulation represented by Barack Obama’s Iran diplomacy, it’s worth recalling what the president said when he was trying to sell his interim nuclear agreement to a Washington, D.C., audience in December 2013. “We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program,” Mr. Obama said of the Iranians in an interview with Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire philanthropist. “They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program.”
Hardly more than a year later, on the eve of what might be deal-day, here is where those promises stand:
Fordo: “The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.”—Associated Press, March 26. Arak: “Today, the six powers negotiating with Iran . . . want the reactor at Arak, still under construction, reconfigured to produce less plutonium, the other bomb fuel.”—The New York Times, March 7.
Advanced centrifuges: “Iran is building about 3,000 advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges, the Iranian news media reported Sunday, a development likely to add to Western concerns about Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.”—Reuters, March 3.
But the president and his administration made other promises, too. Consider a partial list: Possible military dimensions: In September 2009 Mr. Obama warned Iran that it was “on notice” that it would have to “come clean” on all of its nuclear secrets. Now the administration is prepared to let it slide. “Under the new plan,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman reported last week, “Tehran wouldn’t be expected to immediately clarify all the outstanding questions raised by the IAEA in a 2011 report on Iran’s alleged secretive work. A full reckoning of Iran’s past activities would be demanded in later years as part of a nuclear deal that is expected to last at least 15 years.”
Verification: Another thing the president said in that interview with Mr. Saban is that any deal would involve “extraordinary constraints and verification mechanisms and intrusive inspections.” Iran isn’t playing ball on this one, either. “An Iranian official on Tuesday [March 24] rebuked the chief of the U.N. atomic agency for demanding snap inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites, saying the request hindered efforts to reach an agreement with the world powers,” reports the AP. But this has done nothing to dent the administration’s enthusiasm for an agreement. “It was never especially probable that a detailed, satisfactory verification regime would be included in the sort of substantive framework agreement that the Americans have been working for,” the Economist noted last week.
Ballistic missiles: In February 2014, Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator, testified to Congress that while the interim agreement was silent on Iran’s production of ballistic missiles, “that is indeed going to be part of something that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.” This point is vital because ballistic missiles are a central component of a robust nuclear arsenal. Except missiles are off the table, too. “Diplomats say the topic [of missiles] has not been part of formal discussions for weeks,” the AP reported Monday.
Break-out: President Obama has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. will only sign a deal that gives the U.S. and its allies a year’s notice if Iran decides to “break out” and go for a bomb. But if the Iranians won’t come clean on their past weapons’ work, it’s impossible to know how long they would really need to assemble a bomb once they have sufficient nuclear material. Nor does the one-year period square with the way Iran would try to test the agreement: “Iran’s habit of lulling the world with a cascade of small infractions is an ingenious way to advance its program without provoking a crisis,” Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, wrote with former IAEA deputy chief Olli Heinonen and Iran expert Ray Takeyh in a recent Washington Post op-ed. “A year may simply not be enough time to build an international consensus on measures to redress Iranian violations.”
Some readers may object that Iran has made its own significant concessions. Except it hasn’t. They may also claim that the U.S. has no choice but to strike a deal. Except we entered these negotiations with all the strong cards. We just chose to give them up. Finally, critics may argue that I’m being unfair to the administration, since nobody knows the agreement’s precise terms. But that’s rich coming from an administration that refuses to negotiate openly, lest the extent of its diplomatic surrender be prematurely and fatally exposed.
Nearly a century ago Woodrow Wilson insisted on “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in public view.” Barack Obama prefers to capitulate to tyrants in secret. Judging from the above, it’s no wonder.
Real Clear World, Mar. 31, 2015
Concerns with the deal designed to curb with the Islamic Republic's nuclear program have centered around the long-term dangers of the agreement. Aside from technical and oversight issues, the key focus has been on whether to suspend or terminate the crippling sanctions that brought the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table. But what about the immediate impact of lifting sanctions on Tehran? Rarely mentioned is the P5+1 group's plan to unfreeze more than $150 billion of Iran's restricted foreign assets as a first step toward sanctions relief.
The intended move was revealed a few weeks ago by a European source close to P5+1 diplomats involved in the negotiations. BBC Farsi published a telling statement by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on March 28: "If there is an agreement, it is possible that the president would use his powers to temporarily lift some of the sanctions so that if Iran fails in the verification process, we could reimpose the sanctions swiftly." Officials sounded a like note to the Associated Press on March 19: "A draft nuclear accord now being negotiated between the United States and Iran would force Iran to cut hardware it would use to make an atomic bomb by about 40 percent for at least a decade, while offering the Iranians immediate relief from sanctions that have crippled the economy."
The Islamic Republic lacks access to billions of dollars of oil revenues due to financial sanctions imposed over its nuclear activities. According to the official report from the U.S. State Department, these frozen funds exceeded $100 billion dollars between January 2013 and January 2014. "Those assets have actually increased over the course of the Joint Plan of Action as the oil revenues that Iran has been earning have been poured into these restricted accounts," a senior administration official said in July 2014. It is reasonable to estimate that today an amount exceeding $150 billion sits in these restricted accounts.
On Feb. 19, Iranian state media outlet IRNA published the statements of Iran's presidential spokesman. "The 11th administration began when the golden era of more than $100 billion oil revenue was over, the massive revenue was gone and instead the circle of economic blockade surrounded the government," the spokesman said. He added that the government of President Hassan Rouhani has to run the country on a $17 billion budget.
Even with the state treasuries admittedly empty, the regime finds the means to fund terrorism in the region and around the world. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's evil empire is now financially overextended as it feeds destabilizing forces from the Houthi militants in Yemen to Lebanese Hezbollah operatives worldwide – not to mention Hamas in Gaza, and the Quds Force-led terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Once the Islamist regime regains access to such an excess of forbidden funds, it would not have to worry about future sanctions – these could take years to impose and longer still to be effective. Meanwhile, Iran can effortlessly move its nuclear program and its sponsorship of terror to a new phase. Rouhani's scheming, duplicitous diplomats have planned this all along, and they found an ear willing to listen in the Obama administration.
The Islamic Republic's interventions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and its destructive role in intensifying sectarian divisions, have increased despite a domestic financial crisis. The flow of $150 billion into the regime's coffers would make Rouhani's government the richest in Iranian history. But make no mistake. The Islamic Republic will only be emboldened to continue along the same path it has followed for the past 36 years, and to intensify its cross-border activities to support its regional ambitions. In a meeting with the members of the Assembly of Experts on March 16, Khamenei declared: "Today, we often hear from arrogant powers and opponents of Islamic establishment, particularly the Islamic Republic, that they seek behavior change, claiming that they no longer want regime change. But a change in behavior is no different from regime change. They are the same. Changing behavior means you should give up your efforts for an objective." And we have all painfully witnessed these efforts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.
Despite its smile diplomacy, the Islamic Republic remains a rogue regime that must be reined in through tough negotiations. While regime apologists have tried to convey that only Israel opposes the generous concessions that the Obama administration has been pushing relentlessly over the course of the nuclear negotiations, the events in Yemen tell a different story. Saudi Arabia has been joined by Bahrain, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan, Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey in an unprecedented coalition to launch airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. They are all aware that the imminent bad deal has emboldened the Islamic Republic to act with impunity in the region, and that they can no longer rely on U.S. security guarantees. As remarked by Rep. Darell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs: "The continued easement or outright removal of sanctions against this rogue state will only further embolden Iran and facilitate its belligerent behavior. We must make it clear that we will support our allies ad punish our enemies through steadfast resolve and decisive action."
Wall Street Journal, Mar. 27, 2015
With days to go until the deadline for the Iran nuclear talks, the list of the skeptical is growing. The latest addition is the International Atomic Energy Agency, and its misgivings are a reality check on Iran’s willingness to honor its promises. “Progress has been very limited” on Iran’s promise to come clean about its earlier efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, IAEA head Yukiya Amano said this week. Mr. Amano added that “no more new issues” had been resolved, particularly on Iran’s effort to develop explosives for a nuke.
Supporters of the talks hailed last year’s Iranian-IAEA statement, in which Tehran pledged to fess up to its weaponization work. That statement followed a 2013 agreement setting out a 12-step plan for disclosing the possible military dimensions of a nuclear program Tehran still claims is for civilian use. Tehran would clean the slate about the past, the thinking went, and trust would grow. Now Mr. Amano says Tehran has completed only one of the 12 steps. Western intelligence agencies believe the regime tried to develop a nuclear explosive device beginning in the 1980s. Tehran in subsequent years consolidated its weaponization work in the “AMAD Plan,” led by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a Ph.D. nuclear scientist and senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s team procured dual-use technologies, developed detonators and conducted high-explosive experiments until 2003, when the AMAD Plan was halted, according to Western intelligence. The apparent pause came after the 2002 disclosure of two secret nuclear sites—the event that set off the Iranian nuclear crisis—and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq. But as former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright told us last year, “Fakhrizadeh continued to run the program in the military industry.” The AMAD Plan’s latest iteration is the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known to the West by its Persian acronym, SPND. Iran has long withheld information about the SPND and its predecessor entities, and it has refused to make Mr. Fakhrizadeh available for IAEA interviews.
Without Iranian disclosure of past illicit activities, including nuclear enrichment and weaponization research, it’s hard to see how the Obama Administration can honor its core pledge to strike a deal that would give the West a one-year warning if Iran decides to build a bomb. As Olli Heinonen, the former Deputy Director-General for Safeguards at the IAEA, told us, “you need to have that baseline. You want to understand what they were doing.” An Iran that has the know-how to rapidly weaponize highly enriched uranium or plutonium may need only months to assemble a bomb.
The Obama Administration is plowing ahead anyway, and the Journal reports it is now prepared to accept a “scaled-back version” of the 2013 agreement. The U.S. may also accept a verification plan that would grant the IAEA access to “some” of the sites that Iran has so far closed to the IAEA. But any verification program that doesn’t give inspectors unfettered and immediate access to any place they want to see does little more than create the illusion of inspections while giving Iran the opportunity to cheat.
The Administration’s red lines on Iran have been as erasable as they were on Syria. But Iran’s inspection stonewall ought to be a deal-breaker, and cause for a sense of the Senate vote as early as next week on the President’s failing diplomacy.
Father Raymond J. de Souza
National Post, Mar. 25, 2015
The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, told his Iranian counterpart that “the nuclear talks have reached the final sprint in the marathon.” Indeed, the negotiations between the “P5 + 1” — the permanent five members of the UN security council and Germany, Iran’s most important trading partner in terms of establishing its nuclear program — are heading toward their 10th anniversary next year. The supposed sprint is the deadline to get a comprehensive agreement in place in the next few months.
It is a mystery why the agreement is taking so long. Iran is desirous of obtaining nuclear weapons, which would advance its ambition to become a regional Islamic hegemon and make more credible its threats to annihilate the state of Israel. The P5 + 1, led by the Americans, want an agreement that would permit Iran to reach the threshold of nuclear weapons, but not to cross it. The easiest way for both sides to be satisfied would be for the Iranians to agree to what the Americans are asking, and then later to go ahead and develop nuclear weapons anyway. A win-win. President Obama gets his diplomatic agreement, and Iran gets its nukes.
That is likely what is going to happen anyway, as no one believes Obama would do anything serious to prevent Iran from violating whatever agreement it makes, especially since Russia and China — members of the P5 — might smile benignly on a nuclear Iran anyway. That is not too bleak a view. Ukraine has already shown us that the West lacks the will to enforce the terms of nuclear non-proliferation. This month marks a year since Vladimir Putin invaded, occupied and annexed Crimea from Ukraine. The annexation was not only catastrophic for Ukraine, but dealt a serious blow to non-proliferation efforts.
After the dismantling of the Soviet empire in 1991 and the return of Ukraine to the map of Europe, the question of Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal had to be dealt with. The missiles were on sovereign Ukrainian territory, even though the centre of command-and-control remained in Moscow. Should that control be shifted to Kyiv? Should Ukraine become a nuclear power? The consensus of the P5 was that the salutary dismemberment of the Soviet Union should not produce the desultory spread of nuclear weapons to new states.
It was resolved with the signing of the Budapest Memorandum, the 20th anniversary of which was marked last December. That 1994 agreement was signed by Ukraine, the United States, Britain and Russia, with separate assurances given by the other P5 members, France and China. Ukraine agreed to give up what was then the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for security guarantees. Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence were to be respected with its existing borders, and the nuclear powers forswore using force or the threat of force in Ukraine. Ukraine was persuaded to cede its nuclear stockpile by assurances that it would not be needed for defensive purposes.
So when Russia, a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum, invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea without any practical punishment, let alone reversal, the Budapest Memorandum was rendered a dead letter. Given that it was one of the major achievements of non-proliferation diplomacy, its unilateral shredding by Russia’s Putin grievously wounded the cause. The general theory of non-proliferation is that states who aspire to nuclear arms are induced to give them up in favour of security guarantees from existing nuclear powers, making the desired weapons superfluous. Ukraine abided by the rules of the game. Why would anyone else?
It’s possible that Iran will outmanoeuvre the Obama administration, as Syria and Russia have in the past 18 months. But even if Iran was somehow cajoled into a non-proliferation agreement, why would it keep it? The consequences would likely be tolerable, as they have been for Russia over Ukraine, and whatever security guarantees they might be offered are no longer credible.
At the moment, the greatest force against nuclear proliferation by Iran may be, oddly enough, a pre-emptive arms race. An Iranian nuke would shortly be followed by a Saudi one and an Egyptian one, and even the most bloodthirsty radicals in Iran might think twice about the current instability in the Middle East being nuclearized. Iran knows that nuclear Israel is not likely to act with apocalyptic fervour; the same cannot be said for neighbouring lands where ISIS is on the march.
Nuclear non-proliferation was long a favoured cause of the multilateral, progressive global left. Strangely then, the multilateral, progressive Obama administration, together with its European allies, may well deal a death blow to non-proliferation by agreeing to a bad deal with Iran, finishing off the damage done a year ago in Ukraine.
Iran Militia Chief: Destroying Israel is ‘Nonnegotiable’: Lazar Berman, Times of Israel, Mar. 31, 2015 —The commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said that “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable,” according to an Israel Radio report Tuesday.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Holds Key to Nuclear Deal: Jay Solomon & Laurence Norman, Wall Street Jouranl, Mar. 30, 2015 — With a key deadline just hours away, U.S. and European officials said nuclear negotiations were imperiled by deep uncertainty over whether Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would sign off on the necessary concessions for a deal.
The Gaping Holes in Obama’s Iran Deal: Emily B. Landau, Globe & Mail, Mar. 5, 2015 —When considering the dangers of a bad nuclear deal with Iran, it’s time to depart from the drama surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and get back to the issues, as Mr. Netanyahu himself did in the speech.
How America Bamboozled Itself About Iran: Jordan Chandler Hirsch, Commentary, Mar. 23, 2015 — Here, then, is where we are. When the world’s most powerful nations began their effort to negotiate away Iran’s nuclear program in 2003, the Islamic Republic had 130 centrifuges.
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