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On Sunday, media reported that six world powers reached a provisional agreement on key parts of a deal that is meant to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
Western diplomats in Switzerland reported that Iran had “more or less” agreed to reduce the number of its centrifuge machines by more than two-thirds and to ship abroad most of its stockpile of nuclear material. Iranian diplomats immediately denied the reports and said that they were ‘pure journalistic speculation.’ Israeli radio Reshet Beth quoted the head of Iranian team as saying that Iran categorically rejects any exporting of their stockpiles.
Later, a French official in Lausanne angrily knocked down the report and said it was totally false. The New York Times also confirmed the Reshet Beth report and quoted Iranian official Abbas Araqchi, who said “The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program, and we do not intend sending them abroad. There is no question of sending the stocks abroad.”
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“The revelation that Iran is now insisting on retaining the fuel could raise a potential obstacle at a critical time in the talks. And for critics of the emerging deal in Congress, in Israel and in Sunni Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, the prospect of leaving large amounts of nuclear fuel in Iran, in any form, is bound to intensify their already substantial political opposition”, The New York Times reported.
Israeli officials reacted to the developments in Switzerland by issuing sharply-worded statements. One official described the terms of the looming agreement as “incomprehensibly” bad and rejected the Obama administration’s contention that it would keep the regime a year away from accumulating enough fissile material for a bomb.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday that the deal was “full of holes,” and that he hoped US President Barack Obama would keep to his word that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
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Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu reported at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting that he had spoken to US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and with Democratic leader Harry Reid. He heard strong and continuing bipartisan support for Israel from both of them, and the two expressed their deep concern over the agreement being formulated with Iran. Netanyahu said: “The agreement, as it appears, confirms all of our concerns and even more so.”
“While [world powers] convene to sign this deal, Iran’s proxies in Yemen are conquering large swaths of land in an effort to overtake the Bab al-Mandeb Straits, so that they can change the balance of power in shipping oil,” Netanyahu said, referring to recent unrest in Yemen.
“The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous to humanity, and must be stopped,” he added.
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Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon also called the emerging deal with Iran “a very bad deal.” Turning Iran into a nuclear threshold state, he said Sunday, “would be nothing less than a tragedy for the moderate regimes in the Middle East and the entire Western world.”
“You don’t need to be an intelligence officer to see Iran is lying barefacedly, and is today the greatest danger to the stability of the Middle East,” he said.
Earlier last week, news broke that the U.S. negotiation team had retreated from the demand that the underground uranium enrichment plant Fordow be closed under the agreement.
The Associated Press reported last Thursday that the United States was considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at the once-secret, fortified underground bunker in Fordow in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.
“The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.
“Instead of uranium, which can be enriched to be the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, any centrifuges permitted at Fordo would be fed elements such as zinc, xenon or germanium for separating out isotopes used in medicine, industry or science, the officials said. The number of centrifuges would not be enough to produce the amount of uranium needed to produce a weapon within a year — the minimum time-frame that Washington and its negotiating partners demand,” the AP reported.
At the start of the negotiation process with Iran, the White House promised that Fordow would be shuttered. Later, Obama’s team agreed that Fordow would be converted into a research and development plant where no enrichment would take place.
Allowing the Iranians to enrich at Fordow means they could kick out inspectors at any time and have a fully-functioning enrichment facility hardened against military intervention. Since sanctions will be unraveled by design at the beginning of a deal, that means the West would have literally zero options to stop a breakout.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner immediately reacted to the AP report and tweeted: “Not a good deal.”
Earlier last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE) confirmed that Iran has yet to comply with the demand to hand over to the UN Security Council and the IEAE crucial information about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.
In an address to the 2015 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, Director General Yukiya Amano of the IEAE urged Iran to implement the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement. This is a step that gives IAEA inspectors greater access to sites and more information about a country’s nuclear program so that the Agency can provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.
In November 2011, Amano stated in a report to the IAEA Board of Governors that credible information obtained by the Agency indicated that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicated that, before the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some might still be ongoing. The report identified 12 areas of concern.
The U.S. Senate reacted to the emerging deal and voted unanimously (100-0) for Senator Kirk’s proposal that would enable Congress to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran if it cheats on a nuclear agreement with the West. The move came just a few days after media reports that Democrats would block the proposal.
On Saturday, a journalist who defected from the Iranian team in Switzerland issued a damning indictment of America’s role in the negotiations with Iran.
“The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal,” Amir Hossein Motaghi told a TV station just after defecting from the Iranian delegation while abroad for the nuclear talks.
Retired US Adm. James A. Lyons, writing for Accuracy in Media, agrees with Motaghi. He wrote that the negotiations regarding a nuclear agreement with Iran are “a sham” and that its outcome was pre-ordained by Obama in secret communications with the Iranian leaders in 2008. Lyons based his conclusions on a report by Iran expert Michael Ledeen and called for Obama’s impeachment.
Michael Ledeen wrote in August last year that Obama used a secret back channel to Tehran during his first presidential campaign in 2008. He did this to assure the mullahs that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic and that they would be very happy with his policies.
The secret channel was Ambassador William G. Miller, who served in Iran during the shah’s rule, as chief of staff for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and as ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador Miller has confirmed to me his conversations with Iranian leaders during the 2008 campaign.
Ever since, President Obama’s quest for an alliance with Iran has been conducted through at least four channels: Iraq, Switzerland (the official U.S. representative to Tehran), Oman, and a variety of American intermediaries, the most notable of whom is probably Valerie Jarrett, his closest adviser. In recent months, Middle Eastern leaders reported personal visits from Ms. Jarrett, who briefed them on her efforts to manage the Iranian relationship. This was confirmed to me by a former high-ranking American official who says he was so informed by several Middle Eastern leaders”.
Ledeen’s story is consistent with what Michael Doran wrote in his essay “Obama’s secret Iran Strategy.”
Here is what Doran wrote:
(Obama’s Iran policy was shaped by) the final report of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan congressional commission whose co-chairs, former secretary of state James Baker and former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, interpreted their mission broadly, offering advice on all key aspects of Middle East policy.
The report, published in December 2006, urged then-President Bush to take four major steps: withdraw American troops from Iraq; surge American troops in Afghanistan; reinvigorate the Arab-Israeli “peace process”; and, last but far from least, launch a diplomatic engagement of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its junior partner, the Assad regime in Syria. Baker and Hamilton believed that Bush stood in thrall to Israel and was therefore insufficiently alive to the benefits of cooperating with Iran and Syria. Those two regimes, supposedly, shared with Washington the twin goals of stabilizing Iraq and defeating al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadi groups. In turn, this shared interest would provide a foundation for building a concert system of states—a club of stable powers that could work together to contain the worst pathologies of the Middle East and lead the way to a sunnier future.”
Doran also wrote that a deal with Iran is like nationalized healthcare to Obama and that the President planned to keep Congress in the dark and out of the picture from the outset because Congress is ‘hostile and suspicious’ toward Iran.
Omri Ceren contributed to this report from Lausanne.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)