Are we on the cusp of a major diplomatic break on Iran’s nuclear program at talks scheduled to open in Geneva next week? The mainstream news media thinks so.
This includes Washington Post communist David Ignatius who believes a “new regional framework” is around the corner that will accommodate “the security needs of Iranians, Saudis, Israelis, Russians, and Americans.”
Former USA Today columnist Barbara Slavin is also optimistic and wrote in a Voice of America article this week that conditions for progress “are far more propitious than they were four years ago” and that “both the U.S. and Iran have been hinting at concessions while trying to look resolute.”
Conservative experts are more skeptical. Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is unimpressed by the supposed moderation of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and has accused the Obama administration of wishful thinking.
Ambassador John Bolton has accused Rouhani of a “cosmetic policy shift” and of trying to stage protracted negotiations to buy more time for the Iranian nuclear program like he did when he was the Iranian nuclear negotiator in 2003.
So what concessions is each side prepared to make at next week’s talks?
Iran reportedly may offer to close its underground Fordow plant where it is enriching uranium to the 20 percent U-235 level (weapons grade) and allow more intrusive inspections by the IAEA in exchange for the West lifting economic sanctions.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany reportedly plan to push Iran to agree to an offer they made last February to ease some sanctions if Iran will close Fordow and ship some of its 20 percent enriched uranium out of the country.
Iranian officials said this week the West’s February offer is not good enough, and they want a new offer.
It is unclear whether the United States and its allies will go beyond the February offer, at least during the first round of talks. However, Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks at the U.N. last month with the Iranian foreign minister that sanctions could be lifted if Iran can prove its nuclear program is peaceful and not weapons related.
It will be impossible to conclusively prove this due to Iran’s years of cheating on its nuclear treaty obligations.
One thing that seems certain is that the Obama administration will not back away from a stunning concession they made in June 2012 by agreeing to allow Iran to enrich uranium to the reactor-grade level.
State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman refused to explain the administration’s position on this issue when she testified to Congress this week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had it right when he demanded in his recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly that Iran must halt all uranium enrichment.
The reason is that the uranium Iran has enriched to 20 percent can be made into nuclear weapons fuel only a few weeks faster than its reactor-grade uranium. A more worrying difference is that while Iran can now produce enough nuclear fuel for one nuclear weapon from its 20 percent enriched uranium, it could produce enough weapons-grade fuel for up to eight nuclear bombs from its reactor-grade uranium stockpile.
There also are growing concerns about an Iranian heavy-water nuclear reactor under construction near the town of Arak. When completed in late 2014, it will be capable of producing about two nuclear bombs’ worth of plutonium per year. Any new agreement with Iran must require that this reactor be scrapped.
I am skeptical about the intentions of President Rouhani, and I don’t believe he has offered any concessions that will appreciably slow his country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, I would view as a good start an Iranian offer to close the Fordow enrichment plant, moving its enriched uranium out of the country, and allowing IAEA inspectors access to Iranian nuclear facilities.
The problem with such an Iranian offer is whether Fordow will be irreversibly shut down and whether Iran gives IAEA inspectors free access to all nuclear facilities, including several from which they have been barred for several years.
Given its past history, Iranian diplomats will probably demand a complete cessation of Western sanctions in exchange for any concessions it may offer next week. It would be a mistake for the United States and its allies to surrender this leverage until Iran makes progress on a more significant agreement.
The Obama administration has been far too eager to reach a so-called historic agreement with Tehran. The Iranians know this and appear prepared to make minor concessions to end Western sanctions that are crippling their economy, while they continue their nuclear weapons program.
It is therefore essential that Obama diplomats be tough at next week’s talks and at future rounds to pressure Iranian officials to take substantial and verifiable steps to halt its nuclear weapons program.
With Iran within weeks or months of being able to produce enough nuclear fuel for its first nuclear bomb, the United States and its allies can’t let themselves be fooled again by President Rouhani.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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