The Done Deal That Needn’t Have Been Done

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is the latest to underestimate the chances for a final deal with Iran over its civilian nuclear program, claiming “there is no guarantee that we will succeed.” That may well have been true before the failure of the push for new sanctions led by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez but as of last week all the hopes of Congressional Iran hawks for sabotaging these talks vanished with a few computer keystrokes. Eighty-two Democratic donors composed a letter to their party’s leaders in which they sternly put their collective foot down and pressed for Congress to “allow these fragile negotiations to proceed without making threats that could derail them or tying the hands of the negotiators by imposing unrealistic terms for a final agreement.” And with that, ladies and gentlemen, the contest has been decided—diplomacy has already won the day.

The only hurdle for Congressional Democrats—how to get around the fact that being adamantly anti-Iran has been a cherished bipartisan trademark of Congress–has just been removed. Now, having donor support to prop them up, Democrats can overcome their own habitual Iran hawkishness (because campaign cash is on the line) and not hesitate to foil anti-deal maneuvers at every turn. But those efforts wouldn’t have amounted to more than shenanigans, however, since the opponents of negotiations aren’t so much against a nuclear agreement but the good chance of that agreement afterward leading to détente with Iran. So from the looks of it those who have been resisting diplomacy were going to be trounced anyway on account of their bluster being half-hearted. Although they prefer the status quo, they know diplomacy will have to succeed or else our ‘P5+1’ partners will bolt out of frustration and easily solve the dispute without the U.S.

It is truly great news that the final deal is as good as done but there shouldn’t have been any diplomacy in the first place because there was never any justification for it. Iran hasn’t violated the NPT in any respect (that includes their nuclear weapons research) and satisfactorily addressed all of the IAEA’s concerns years ago. But rather than being vindicated, the IAEA then began to needle Iran about the “alleged studies”—a batch of highly questionable intelligence that the organization hadn’t before taken seriously. These documents are most certainly the handiwork of Israel’s Mossad and the U.S. is using them as an excuse (with the IAEA’s connivance) to keep the heat on Iran and the final deal out of reach. The U.S. refuses to disclose these documents to Iran and, as Gareth Porter writes, “a draft text of an agreement being negotiated between the IAEA and Iran dated Feb. 20, 2012, shows that the only difference between the two sides on resolving issues about allegations of Iranian nuclear weapons work was Iran’s demand to have the documents on which the allegations are based.”

Not handing over these documents is a dead give-away to the Iranians that the intelligence is fabricated, as they’ve maintained all along. So if the Iranians know the case against them is baseless, why are they going along with the rigmarole of negotiations? They could simply wait it out as all the accusations are falsified one after another and not make any concessions. Why conclude a final deal that limits their nuclear program when they’ve done nothing wrong and can prove to the world that they are blameless? It’s for building trust. The regime is playing along because they actually want the West involved in its program because they know they don’t have the domestic uranium capacity to fulfill their lofty ambitions. It wouldn’t even count as a policy shift. From the beginning of its nuclear program, Iran worked closely with the international community to build their program and had no intention of becoming self-sufficient in the enrichment cycle.

That changed abruptly when the West rebuffed the relationship after the Islamic revolution. Nevertheless, Iran continued to seek the cooperation that was its due as an NPT signatory and only began to develop its indigenous abilities when it felt it had no choice. Hamid Babaei explains that the decision was made when “objections were made by the big powers” to a deal between Argentina and Iran that would have converted the core of the American-built Tehran Research Reactor to use 20 percent instead of 93 percent. “Iranian scientists,” writes Babaei, were convinced that “their only alternative… was to make Iran technologically self-sufficient.” In this context, the Iranian’s insistence on possessing the right to enrich on their own soil is entirely understandable given Western blackballing but it also can open up the door to resuming the earlier collaboration, which is much needed if Iran plans to construct up to twenty more power plants.

Siegfreid Hecker and William Perry point out that “no matter how many more centrifuges Iran installs, it can never become self-sufficient because it does not possess adequate uranium ore reserves for a large-scale nuclear energy program,” and, consequently, “If Iran insists on a large and mostly indigenous nuclear electricity program, it can succeed only through international cooperation.” Again, Tehran is well aware of this but is leery over having to purchase fuel abroad seeing how frequently the West has failed to uphold its end of the nuclear bargain. Iran welcomes the P5+1 diplomatic process as a way out of this fix. The final deal will first mend the necessary fences and most likely result in the internationalization of Iran’s program (something proposed by Russia) while leaving Iran with limited domestic capabilities as insurance in case fuel exchanges fall apart. It’s enough to make one wonder if Iran progressing so much in their program was for the purpose of finding a clever way towards détente with the West.