October 22nd, 2021

Reality Check

Will Obama Give In to Iran? He Already Has.

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin

Published Feb. 2, 2015

  Will Obama Give In to Iran? He Already Has.

Almost all of the coverage about the ongoing controversy about plans for Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress next month about sanctions on Iran has focused on allegations regarding inappropriate behavior from an ally and breaches of protocol.

But an exchange of anonymous quotes from administration and Netanyahu government sources in the Israeli press this weekend should serve as a reminder of what is really at stake in the dispute.

Israeli sources said the problem was that the deal that President Obama was working to conclude with Iran would allow it to keep several thousand of its centrifuges and allow it to "breakout" to a nuclear weapon in a matter of months.

Anonymous American government sources replied that this was nonsense. But anyone who has been closely following informed coverage of the negotiations knows that far from being misleading, the Israelis are doing nothing but stating the obvious about an American willingness to let Iran become a nuclear threshold state.

Rather than discussing Netanyahu's chutzpah, Americans should be asking some of the same questions as the Israelis.

Though Netanyahu's fans in the United States and his supporters at home continue to engage in denial about the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, the longer this debate continues, the more it has become obvious that the prime minister blundered.

With even reliably pro-Israel Democrats openly discussing boycotts of the speech and others backing away from support for sanctions, the speech has become a dangerous distraction that has served to rally members of the president's party to back his position even if many are dubious about its merits.

That's why it's vital that we stop talking about protocol and return to the core question at the heart of the debate: whether the president's efforts will redeem his campaign promise that any deal would result in the end of Iran's nuclear program.

The answer is, unfortunately, that they won't and that ought to put Netanyahu's worries in perspective.

We know that this is no longer the objective of American diplomacy because the terms of the interim nuclear deal agreed to by the United States in November 2013 made it clear that Iran was going to be able to keep its infrastructure.

That agreement tacitly recognized Iran's "right" to enrich uranium even though its terms slowed down their rate of progress. But as even administration defenders acknowledged, the restrictions on the Iranians' efforts could be easily reversed in any breakout scenario.

The subsequent negotiations for a final deal were supposed to last only six months, but are now in their third overtime with administration sources acting as if a fourth such extension would not be unthinkable if a deal isn't reached by July.

That's bad enough. But far worse are the terms currently under discussion.

What is the Western offer on the table that the Iranians are rejecting? If you want to know, don't take the word of official Israeli sources; try reading one of the most sympathetic forums for the administration, the AL Monitor website.

Back in November when the Iranians wouldn't accept President Obama's proposed deal forcing the U.S. to accept another breach of the deadline, here's what it reported:

The agreement allows Iran to continue researching its most advanced centrifuges. Israeli sources estimate that this research will be completed within two years. Then, within another six months, the Iranians will be able to install an enormous number of new enrichment centrifuges, which operate at six times the speed of the current batch. This capacity will seriously expedite the potential Iranian "breakout to a bomb."

Under such circumstances, the Israelis explained to their colleagues, the West will be convinced that it stopped Iran one year before it can build a bomb, when the true amount of time needed will be just two months.

Two months, the Israelis told anyone who was willing to listen, is not enough time for the world to respond and block Iran should it decide to proceed at full steam.

In other words, the agreement that everyone is talking about is one that would turn Iran into a nuclear threshold state in a very brief amount of time, and immediately enable it to make the quick leap forward to nuclear capabilities, before the world can even respond.

As much as the interim deal had been a far cry from the positions that the president had articulated when running for reelection, this potential deal was even worse in that it would allow the Iranians to keep everything they would need to make a bomb but rely on their promises and the West's shaky intelligence and restricted United Nations inspections to ensure that they wouldn't do so. But, AL Monitor noted, that wasn't the extent of the problem:

Iran is not obligated to dismantle its centrifuge infrastructure, but only to disable the centrifuges. Under those circumstances, in any situation in which the Iranians decide to withdraw from the agreement or violate it, they can get the centrifuge system that they "neutralized" working again within two weeks. All of this proves that Iran will continue to maintain expansive enrichment capabilities, which can easily be restored to previous capacity and even beyond that within just a few weeks.

Seen from that perspective, the Israeli allegations about the direction of U.S. diplomacy seem very much to the point. How do we explain the discrepancy between what Obama promised and the sort of agreement he seems to be aiming toward?

The first answer is that the Iranians are much tougher negotiators than the Western team that has been trying to get them to give the president a much-needed foreign-policy triumph. Whenever the Iranians have said no to a demand, the Americans have simply given up and moved on to other points.

Secretary of State Kerry even defended this practice after the interim deal by saying that it was better to give in and keep talking than to ask for the impossible. But in practice that has meant that years of talks have now taken the U.S. to a point where they are actually disputing how many hundreds of centrifuges the Iranians will be able to keep, a stance that merely reduces the issue to how long it will take for the Islamists to get their bomb.

But even more to the point is the fact that, as President Obama's comments about the negotiations have made clear, the goal is not so much to end the nuclear threat as it is to work toward a sort of reconciliation with Tehran without requiring it to halt their support for terrorist groups and cease working toward production of ballistic missiles, let alone give up their nuclear ambitions.

Though the president wants to help Iran "get right with the world," what his efforts are really doing is to advance their efforts toward regional hegemony. This position has influenced the U.S. to form an informal alliance with Iran in Iraq and Syria and frightened and alienated moderate Arab nations as well as the Israelis.

So far from being "nonsense," Netanyahu's concerns about the president's diplomatic goals are very much to the point in the debate about sanctions. With the president showing no sign that he will ever admit that the negotiations have failed, the need to toughen the American position has now become imperative. Democrats might be forgiven for rallying around their leader when they perceive he is under attack.

But those who care about nuclear proliferation and a potentially genocidal Iranian threat to both Israel and the West need to forget about protocol and start asking tough questions about what kind of a deal the administration is trying to conclude.

Unless something drastic happens to change the American position, the problem isn't that Obama might adopt a position that will let Iran become a nuclear threshold state.

It's that he has already done so.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine, in whose blog "Contentions" this first appeared.