Diplomatic negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program begin this Friday. Positions in the talks have been exchanged already, however. Surprisingly, even after the Obama administration spent months resisting calls for war with Iran, Washington’s stated proposal seems to guarantee the talks will fail. But, there is a big but…
Washington is, at least publicly, entering into talks with a demand that Iran stop all 20 percent low-enriched uranium and to close and dismantle the facility at Fordow, which is protected by reinforced concrete inside a mountain. This, despite the fact that Iran has full rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich LEU and that inspections can be regularly performed on Fordow (it has been inspected more than 10 times since October 2009). In January 2012, Iran announced that Fordow “remains under the agency’s containment and surveillance.” Demanding Fordow be dismantled is not only harmful to negotiations, it is totally unnecessary. As Paul Pillar wrote yesterday, “The Western message to Tehran seems pretty clear: we might be willing to tolerate some sort of Iranian nuclear program, but only one consisting of facilities that would suffer significant damage if we, or the Israelis, later decide to bomb it. In other words, we insist on holding Iranian nuclear facilities hostage to armed attack.”
Israel, although not involved in the talks, has an even more absurd demand: Iran must stop all nuclear enrichment.
Iran at first had the position that enrichment at 20 percent would continue and no fuel swap (which was the basis for previous negotiations in 2010). Now Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, says that Tehran could stop enriching to 20 percent after they’ve stockpiled enough for use in a research reactor. “The job is being carried out based on need,” he said. “When the need is met, we will decrease production and it is even possible to completely reverse to only 3.5 percent.” No U.S. response to this has yet been heard.
At this point, I’m inclined to assume that Washington will alter its demands and make compromises once talks start. The cynic in me believes that Washington’s calculus could very well be to intend to make unrealistic demands on Iran so that the negotiations will inevitably fail, at which point the Obama administration can claim military strike is necessary. As Justin Raimondo put it in today’s column, accept our ridiculous demands, “Or else.”
That said, the Obama administration, terrible as it is, has expended considerable political capital in opposing a war with Iran. Obama officials, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, have been paraded in front of Congress for months emphasizing their estimate that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons and has demonstrated no intention to do so. Then Obama secretly contacted the Supreme Ayatollah through Turkey’s prime minister in a diplomatic fashion. He then released to the press the results of a Pentagon war simulation which demonstrated that war with Iran would result in the outbreak of a regional conflict which would be almost impossible to contain. The administration did this while getting hammered by the GOP candidates and the Israeli leadership. Why would they do all that just to intentionally neuter a diplomatic solution and legitimize a military strike? I have little doubt that, as Pillar says Iran has “ample reason” to believe, “ultimately the main Western interest is in regime change.” But my humble prediction is that the Obama administration makes at least some compromise, even if it doesn’t dispense with the nuclear double standard which is at the heart of this quarrel.