Trust Should Be No Issue for Iran Deal

Every news piece on the P5+1’s negotiation with Iran never neglects to remind us that the West has suspicions about Iran’s uranium enrichment and that Tehran denies the allegations that their civilian program is a cover for making nukes. We also hear of how difficult these negotiations are due to decades of distrust between the U.S. and Iran. Mark Hibbs sums it up saying, “The powers are asking Iran to do a lot of things because they don’t trust Iran,” and “Iran hasn’t agreed to do some of these things because they don’t trust the powers.” I can certainly understand Iran being skeptical of the West’s intentions but what I don’t get is how the U.S. can claim Iran is so untrustworthy when it has completely kept the interim nuclear agreement. The IAEA’s monthly report on Iran confirms its adherence to the terms of that agreement’s extension. Why is it that Iran can do all that has been asked of it and yet gets no credit for this?

Okay, an objector might say, Iran may be keeping its word but the trust issue has always been more about the underground nature of their nuclear program’s development. That’s the position of General Hugh Shelton, the 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Since the 1990s, Iran has hoodwinked the international community over its nuclear program time and time again,” Shelton writes. There can be no give-and-take when negotiating with those shady Iranians since any “concessions by the international community will only encourage the mullahs to resort to deceit, denial and concealment again.” True, Iran had to be secretive about progressing on its civilian program but, as Josh Ruebner notes, this was only “a posture ineluctably adopted after the Reagan administration aggressively denied Iran access to nuclear technology permitted to it as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” Washington violated the NPT by this prohibition and Iran was forced to go below the radar to secure the peaceful technology to which it was entitled.

But here’s the biggest reason why Washington’s suspicions and mistrust are way off base: Iran had the ability to build nukes for years before the Obama administration enacted crushing sanctions and Supreme Leader Khameini never chose to make a mad dash for nukes. “While many in the policy community have not been able to bring themselves to accept this fact, the U.S. intelligence community has insisted clearly and consistently since 2008 that Iran has the capability to build a bomb,” writes Graham Allison. In a Wikileaks cable detailing the discussions at a meeting of international nuclear experts in April 2009 the U.S. representative states “Iran had now demonstrated centrifuge operations such that it had the technical ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) if it so chose.” Ah, but Iran only refrained because they feared the U.S.’s military option, you say? Not likely—Iran would have thought all such threats a bluff since the U.S. wasn’t about to open up a third front in the Middle East.

The Iranian government would’ve known (as the Bush administration did) that effectively stopping the nuclear program would require a full-scale invasion and occupation of a country bigger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The path was therefore clear and opportunity could not have been knocking louder for Iran to get the bomb but still Khameini refused. Washington must know this so why can’t Iran be believed when its leaders repeatedly renounce all nuclear weapons ambitions? In a review of Gareth Porter’s “Manufactured Crisis”, Josh Ruebner explains why the U.S. must “persist in divining a malign intent to Iran’s nuclear program”:

“And, of course, there were the neoconservative ideological proclivities of the George W. Bush administration, which infamously deemed Iran to be part of an “axis of evil” and overtly sought regime change in Tehran, a stance that “perversely” skewed U.S. policy “toward provoking Iran to accelerate its enrichment program,” writes Porter.”

Porter is right on the money. Indeed, the neocons and other hawks have hoped that Iran could be egged into producing nukes as an excuse for war and the ensuing regime change. That was the inspiration for tempting Iran with Operation Merlin and for former UN ambassador John Bolton encouraging Iran to abandon the NPT. I don’t think Washington is seriously pursuing regime change in Tehran any longer but for some the dream isn’t dead. General Shelton hasn’t given up and he has pinned his hope on “a viable alternative to the Islamist regime”—the MeK. As the general sees it, “we owe” this recently de-listed Iranian terrorist group “a chance to build a secular, democratic, non-nuclear Iran.” Fat chance of that though—the only thing less popular in Iran than the MeK might be the Shah’s descendants and assuming by some miracle the MeK gained power, they’d be as democratic as the Shah was.

However unserious it may be, it’s time to drop the regime change nonsense. Iran will change in its own time and on its own terms. The focus now should be on Washington working together with Iran to stabilize the Arab world so ISIS can be prevented from expanding further. Say, that’s an interesting topic. What circumstances permitted ISIS to grow and become so powerful in the first place?

Final Deal With Iran Still On Track

After months of diplomacy and having obtained a few months more of breathing space until the next deadline, the P5+1 and Iran’s negotiating teams are enjoying a summer siesta. There will be no further activity until September. Sure the U.S. and Iranian teams met a couple weeks ago but this was a publicity stunt to remind everyone that things are still cool and they quickly resumed snoozing. Naturally, there has been little in the way of news concerning the nuclear issue but there was a development last Friday when Fredrik Dahl wrote about the ongoing IAEA probe regarding the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program. Dahl notes the IAEA’s concern over Iran’s apparent foot-dragging and quoted the Institute for Science and International Security as saying “Unless Iran addresses the IAEA’s concerns… the chance is reduced of successfully negotiating a long term nuclear agreement between the (six powers) and Iran.” The Institute is wrong, however, to think a delayed or incomplete resolution of the probe to be a roadblock and the ‘P5+1’ would tell them as much.

On May 21 Iran and the IAEA released a statement agreeing under a Framework of Cooperatoin that Tehran would provide information about PMD allegations by August 25. But if progress on the final deal was dependent on the IAEA’s inquiry, wouldn’t their work have to be wrapped up by the July 20th deadline for the final deal? That the two cut-off dates weren’t made to coincide must mean the former doesn’t matter much to the latter. That’s how Peter Jenkins interpreted the announcement at the time:

“This is a reminder that the IAEA is pursuing its investigations into Iranian compliance with its NPT safeguards obligations, and alleged nuclear-related activities, in parallel with, but without any formal connection to the negotiations on which the US, Iran and five other powers have embarked pursuant to the November 24, 2013 Joint Plan of Action. It also suggests that the parties to this negotiation have agreed that the resolution of all PMD concerns is not a necessary precondition for agreeing the “comprehensive solution” envisaged in the JPOA.”

Jenkins was right in his thinking because as it so happens a total reckoning of Iran’s past activities may not be in the cards. As Gareth Porter explains “A former US official who had worked on Iran suggested in a recent off-the-record meeting that the ‘possible military dimensions’ issue could not be resolved completely but that one or more parts could be clarified satisfactorily. The rest could be left for resolution by the IAEA after the comprehensive agreement is signed, the ex-official said.” Greg Thielman also doesn’t foresee a full divulgence since it’s “naïve to expect a religious government, which has consistently proclaimed the immorality of such activity, to provide full disclosure if its nuclear program’s past includes deviations from its publicly expressed religious obligations.” Thielman then goes a step further, writing that although “an Iranian confession of past sins is not going to happen,” it isn’t “essential to preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons.”

Here is Jofi Joseph seconding both Thielman and the former U.S. official cited by Porter:

“A final word on timing: it is not essential that Iran provide a full accounting of its past and present weaponization activities by the time a comprehensive agreement is signed… Genuine cooperation between Iran and IAEA inspectors will take time to unfold, and we shouldn’t necessarily seek to rush this process for the benefit of artificial deadlines. Instead, the P5+1 and Iran could structure a comprehensive agreement whereby material progress on the PMD dossier, as certified by the IAEA Secretariat, could trigger phased relief on some of the existing sanctions against Iran. That could establish another incentive for Iran to continue cooperation on weaponization concerns even as implementation of the comprehensive agreement has already begun.”

So if it isn’t imperative that Iran owns up to what it’s suspected of doing what is the IAEA—and by extension the P5+1—aiming at? Jonathan Landay answers by quoting George Perkovich as to what the true point of the PMD investigation is:

“Perkovich said that the IAEA shouldn’t try to determine if Iran was developing a nuclear warhead. Instead, he said, the agency should focus on confirming that the research really has ceased, and establishing a system of UN inspections and monitoring that would detect any attempts to revive the work… “The objective isn’t really to get a confession, but to understand the program so you can watch and build confidence they won’t repeat it,” said Perkovich.”

It was a nice try by the Institute for Science and International Security to spice up an August lull with a potential crisis-in-the-making for the negotiations but I’ll repeat it for the umpteenth time–this deal is happening. It’s too vital to Washington’s interests to let this opportunity slide. Want to get a picture of how important the deal is? Jonathan Tirone gives us some context: “American and Iranian negotiators are unlikely to veer from nuclear issues to engage on other Middle East conflicts in Gaza, Iraq and Syria, according to Ali Vaez. “It has swelled to such strategic and political proportions that it trumps all other peripheral problems,” Vaez said in an e-mailed response to questions.” Iraq is on the verge of falling apart (it already might have) and in comparison with the Iran nuclear issue it’s merely a peripheral problem?! Yeah, if failure with Iran is worse than the unraveling of Iraq then the deal is inevitable.