From FrontPage Mag:
The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany, referred to in shorthand as the P5+1, and Iran announced Thursday that they reached an agreed understanding on a “framework” for the negotiation of a final nuclear deal by the end of this June.
In remarks delivered from the Rose Garden, President Obama praised the framework, calling it “an historic understanding with Iran, which if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said. “Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”
Secretary of State John Kerry followed the directive of President Obama to keep talking with the Iranians past the March 31st deadline for reaching an understanding on all the key elements to be detailed in the final deal. Kerry called the framework that finally emerged from the talks a “solid foundation” to enable completion of a final deal.
A fact sheet prepared by the Obama administration summarizes the administration’s understanding of the “parameters” agreed upon in the framework. The fact sheet purports to describe in detail various elements that the administration claims Iran agreed to. Iran, however, did not sign off at least publicly on the contents of the fact sheet.
In fact, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif tweeted in response to the Obama administration’s fact sheet: “There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.” Before that tweet, in commenting on the announced framework, Mr. Zarif said that “we are still some time away from being where we want to be.” His most upbeat characterization of the talks was that the negotiators had “found solutions.” He did not say what Iran’s understanding of those “solutions” was. Neither did Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who tweeted that “Solutions on key parameters of Iran #nuclear case reached. Drafting to start immediately, to finish by June 30th.”
In other words, despite all the smiles and expressions of optimism from President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and other senior administration officials involved in the negotiations, the bottom line is that there is no evidence of a meeting of the minds on the fundamental elements of a deal that the Obama administration’s self-serving fact sheet purported to describe. There is no memorandum of understanding or set of guidelines signed by both parties that contains a clear understanding of mutually agreed upon terms that the negotiators would then draft into implementable agreement language. Even President Obama had to admit in his Rose Garden remarks that nothing has yet been signed and that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed.”
Iran did not commit itself to anything further at this stage of the negotiations. That is because Iran’s negotiators are carrying out the wishes of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who declared last February 18th that “an agreement would be arrived at not in two stages but in one stage to be completed by the end of June 2015 and the agreement would include the removal of all sanctions on Iran.”
Even if the description of the framework in the Obama administration’s fact sheet is an accurate account of both side’s understandings, it appears to confirm many of the worst fears that have emerged from leaks during the course of the negotiations to date:
1. Thousands of centrifuges still allowed to spin and enrich uranium with expiration periods for any restrictions – Iran will be permitted to retain 6,104 installed centrifuges under the deal, of which up to 5,060 can enrich uranium for 10 years. Iran is said to have agreed not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
2. Additional sunset clauses – The fact sheet sets out a number of additional sunset provisions, ranging from 10 to 15 years.
“Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.”
“For ten years, enrichment and enrichment research and development will be limited to ensure a breakout timeline of at least 1 year.” Beyond the ten year period, there will be unspecified limitations.
Iran is said to have also agreed not to use advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years and “to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.”
Iran will be required to redesign and rebuild its heavy water research reactor in Arak, “based on a design that is agreed to by the P5+1, which will not produce weapons grade plutonium.” It will be repurposed for supporting “peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production.” However, after 15 years Iran will be free to build additional heavy water reactors for any purpose.
3. Underground Fordow facility remains open – Iran’s Fordow underground facility, which Iran had kept secret for as long as it could, will be converted from uranium enrichment use “so that it is used for peaceful purposes only – into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.” Iran is said to have agreed “to not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years,” nor to have “any fissile material at Fordow for 15 years.”
4. No snap inspections or immediate accounting for past military dimensions of nuclear program – The fact sheet states that Iran has agreed to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.” The IAEA will have “regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities” including Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow. To do its job, the IAEA will be able to use “the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.”
IAEA inspectors will also “have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program” and to uranium mines. Iran will in addition be required to provide the IAEA access to permit it to investigate “suspicious” sites or alleged covert facilities anywhere in the country.
Even if all this is true, there is no provision for what experts refer to as snap inspections, which would allow the IAEA to conduct surprise inspections at any place or time of their choosing. Without having to face the possibility of such snap inspections, experts warn, Iran could use delay tactics to cover its tracks and throw up roadblocks to inspections the IAEA would have to schedule in advance.
Iran has a long history of using evasive tactics with the IAEA, including not disclosing information requested by the IAEA regarding any possible past military dimensions of its nuclear program. In a recent IAEA report, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano wrote that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
The fact sheet’s reference to Iran’s disclosure deficit was cryptic. It did not set down any definitive disclosure requirement, let alone a deadline for such disclosure. It said only that Iran “will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.”
If Iran will not even immediately comply with the IAEA’s long-standing requests for information while major sanctions remain in place, how can Iran be trusted to cooperate with the IAEA as sanctions are increasingly softened? Senior administration officials told reporters in a background telephone conference call after the announcement of the framework that President Obama considered inspections and transparency to be a high priority for him. He personally reviewed the nature and means of inspections to ensure himself that Iran would be denied any covert path to a nuclear weapon. The lack of snap inspections and Iran’s continued stonewalling of the IAEA should be reason enough not to have agreed to this framework, especially if the president was really so concerned with transparency and effective verification.
5. No requirement to ship all enriched uranium out of the country – While Iran “will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium,” the fact sheet is silent on requiring Iran to ship all or virtually all of its stockpile out of the country. The fact sheet refers only to the spent fuel from the heavy water reactor as subject to being shipped out of the country.
6. Timing of sanctions relief – In this section, the fact sheet states a fairly rigorous process of allowing phased sanctions relief only in proportion to Iran’s compliance with key elements of the final deal, including “enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency.” The fact sheet says nothing, however, regarding the manner in which Iran’s compliance with its various commitments would be correlated with the lifting of specific sanctions. There will be an unspecified dispute resolution process to address any disagreements regarding performance of the final agreement commitments.
Whatever the Obama administration may think has been agreed to regarding the timing of sanctions relief, this is the area where the negotiation of a final deal is most likely to founder unless Obama makes even more concessions. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has already laid down a red line that he is highly unlikely to reverse – the full and immediate lifting of all sanctions. He has demanded that “sanctions must be taken out of the hands of the enemy in the real sense.”
Even a first year law student knows that there is no agreement in any meaningful sense of the word unless there is a meeting of the minds. The Iranian foreign minister’s rejection of the Obama administration’s fact sheet as “spin” does not bode well for the upcoming negotiations of a final deal. Either there will be no final deal at all or, more likely, President Obama will cave again on key issues such as the timing of sanctions relief and rely on approval by the United Nations Security Council to end run Congress.
I noticed yesterday, Obama and Boltneck fell over themselves getting to the microphone to make their separate historic announcements within minutes after an “historic deal” was struck. Both were beyond pathetic as they bloviated and pandered for their Nobel Peace Prize.
Minutes later the Iranians declared “bullshit” claiming no such agreements were reached as outlined by the “White House Fact Sheet”. Naturally, the media never missed a beat and continued to fawn all over King Putt and Boltneck with all the predictable congratulations over the announcement of this “historic deal”.
If anyone thinks that a verifiable deal with Iran was struck, or ever will be, then I have a bridge to sell.