July 14, 2015

Iran Nuclear Deal - Lingering Concerns

The Obama Administration is touting the conclusion of "the historic deal that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon." Preventing the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is critical to any hope for preventing the entire Middle East from erupting into a conflagration. The White House has issued a slick spin of the deal on its website. You can read the actual text for yourself.

While you read the White House version of reality, take a look at the photograph above. It tells us just who we are being asked to believe has negotiated in good faith - those are officially sanctioned Iranian demonstrations calling for death to America, Israel, United Kingdom, the House of Sa'ud (Saudi Arabia) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Let me first say that I hope that this deal works. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the mullahs in Tehran would be a disaster, not just for the Middle East, but the entire world. That said, I am concerned that the deal as structured may not prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. I am not confident that this Administration has negotiated the type of agreement that will be successful.

Why do I say that? I have been straight-forward in my assessment that since he took office in 2009, President Obama sought to curry favor with the Islamic regime in Iran, despite the enmity and hostility from that regime. His attempts to make inroads with the leadership in Tehran were consistently rebuffed.

It was not until he directed his negotiators, including current Secretary of State John Kerry, to make concession after concession in the nuclear talks - caving on virtually every negotiating point - that the Iranians began to listen to Barack Obama. The Iranian leadership likely assessed - correctly, in my opinion - that Obama was desperate for a deal with Iran, for whatever reason.

It appears to me that the goal of the negotiations was to reach a deal - any deal - with Iran rather than actually achieving the stated objective of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Otherwise, Obama would have stood firm on what we were all told were non-negotiable conditions - sanctions relief only after compliance, anytime and anywhere inspections, continued arms embargo, etc.

So now we have an agreement, technically, a joint comprehensive plan of action. What has changed? Does anyone actually believe that the Iranians have given up their quest for a nuclear weapons capability? What is the end-goal of their nuclear research and development program? Is this Administration ready to believe that Iran is only interested in a nuclear electrical power generation system?

That thought might be the fiction that Kerry and Obama have bought into, but the analysis from specialists at the government's own research laboratories - specifically Frank Pabian at the Los Alamos National Laboratory - indicates that the Iranian effort is much too small for effective power generation, but perfectly suited for a nuclear weapons program. Pabian further postulated as far back as 2008 that if Iran was actually developing a civilian nuclear power program, there was no need to use front companies and locate the facilities in hardened underground bunkers.

What was the rush to conclude a deal? Sanctions were taking a toll on Iran - the Iranians needed this agreement far more than we did. I am struck by the timing of these hurried negotiations. Just a few months ago, President Obama told the American people that our 50-year old policy toward Cuba was not working and it needed to change.

Contrast that with our policy toward Iran - what we had in place was working. The sanctions protocols had brought the Iranians to the table - it was obvious to anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East that Iran was in a position of weakness.

The answer to my last question is tied to the U.S. presidential election cycle. In November 2016, the Americans will elect a new president. Barack Obama will leave office in January 2017 - what will he have to show for it? Thus far, he has enjoyed a few domestic policy successes, all of them controversial and under threat of repeal should the Democrats lose the White House next year.

Likewise, the President's foreign policy is in severe disarray, especially in the Middle East. This agreement with the Iranians - also a controversial "success" - will serve as his legacy assuming it is not overruled by a Congress representing an overwhelmingly skeptical American public, or cancelled by a Republican president in the future.

Here is how the Iranians see the agreement. This is from IRNA, the official Islamic Republic News Agency:

- World powers have recognized Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and are to respect the nuclear rights of Iranian nation within international conventions.

- The Islamic Republic of Iran is to be recognized as a nuclear technology power authorized to have peaceful nuclear programs such as complete nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment to be identified by the United Nations.

- All unfair sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council including economic and financial sanctions on Iran are to be lifted as per the agreement and through issuance of a new resolution by the United Nations Security Council.

- All nuclear installations and sites are to continue their work contrary to the early demands of the other party, none of them will be dismantled.

- The policy on preventing enrichment uranium is now failed, and Iran will go ahead with its enrichment program.

- Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, no centrifuges will be dismantled and research and development on key and advanced centrifuges will continue.

They did not mention that the arms embargo will be lifted in five years, and the missile embargo in eight years.

I don't see how this is a win for the United States. I fear this is a repeat of a similar deal struck by President Bill Clinton with North Korea in 1994; we all know how that turned out. Although there are a variety of issues that need to be addressed with Iran, we have now given up any leverage we had. For example, what about Iran's continued support for terrorism, and what about the Americans currently being held in Iran? Have President Obama and Secretary Kerry sacrificed them on the altar of legacy?

As I said, I hope this agreement stops the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, but having worked in the region and on the Iran issue for decades, I fear the mullahs have outmaneuvered Messrs Obama and Kerry - again.