How long can Barack Obama pretend nuclear diplomacy is working? There are several answers to that question. Cynics, who may not be too far from the truth, say it will depend on US opinion polls at the height of the presidential election campaign. If Obama wakes up one morning to find the Republican Mitt Romney shooting 10 or more points ahead of him because of his failed Iran policy, he may then order a military strike against Iran to go forward.
That is of course an extreme oversimplification: Even if the president needs a war launched urgently to boost his campaign, it can’t be pulled out of a hat on the spot or even within weeks.
Another answer is that President Obama has already decided on American military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but is holding back until the last moment to see if Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei musters the will to open up the negotiations with the six world powers to a breakthrough at the Moscow session on June 16.
A third answer bandied about among White House insiders comes in the form of a secret new Obama plan – codenamed CBM (Confidence Building Measures) – which they say has already been played to procure an advance Iranian promise of a breakthrough in Moscow.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources have obtained exclusive access to the plan’s key points which hinge essentially on a body of highly confidential accords:
Iran will make substantial nuclear concessions – in secret
1. Tehran will quietly delegate the Russians to inform the Americans that Iran has agreed in secret to halt 20-percent uranium enrichment. The secret will be shared with the six powers attending the Moscow talks, but not the Iranian public or the world. Israel will be informed to prevent it attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
(Read more about Israel’s intentions in the next article.)
2. This concession will oil the wheels for the next round of negotiations, probably in early July. To keep Khamenei on the right track, the US and the Europeans will stick to their July 1 date for launching the next series of tough sanctions, including the EU oil embargo and the blacklisting of Iranian banks.
3. At the fourth round of talks in July, the Iranians will move forward, just as confidentially, to accept the removal from the country of all highly-enriched uranium usable for bomb-making, against a guarantee to return the material in the form of nuclear plates, from which it is very hard to make weapons.
4. In the fifth round of talks, likely to take place in late August or early September, the Iranians will consent to a concession termed “dramatic” by US sources familiar with the Obama plan: The reduction of stocks of 3.5-5 percent enriched uranium and their transfer abroad, leaving behind only enough to build “half of a nuclear bomb.”
5. In the course of this five-month negotiating process lasting until November, Washington will not only leave sanctions in place but stiffen them.
Obama personally guarantees Iran will not be attacked
6. Because all the negotiating stages will be kept secret, Khamenei will be able to show his people how bravely their leaders are standing up to extreme American and Western sanctions and pressure and not caving in. He will deny that anything was agreed between Tehran and Washington.
7. What will Khamenei receive in compensation for his cooperation with the Obama plan?
White House insiders say two very important assurances, secured by President Obama’s personal guarantee, that the US and Israel will not attack Iran’s nuclear program either individually or together.
When DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources asked if the Iranians accepted the new Obama plan, his aides replied in the affirmative.
As for Israel’s response, that, too, was presented by US sources as affirmative. They report that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are said to have promised not to attack Iran’s nuclear program so long as the CBM plan is afloat and harsh sanctions are laid on.
(Read about the Israeli position in the next article)
A military strike could destroy Iran’s nuclear program long term
But not everyone in Washington is convinced. Some find this picture over-optimistic and moreover contradicted by the mixed signals coming from the White House in the past week. They take a hard look at the president’s actions between the April 14 Istanbul talks and last week’s continuation in Baghdad and the hiatus after the direct, secret channel dried up between Washington and Tehran, and wonder why he instructed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, to prepare a new report on the potential consequences of a US attack on the Iranian nuclear program and estimate how much damage would be wrought.
The report was on his desk in the Oval Office shortly before the Baghdad round of talks began last week.
US sources with access to the document were flabbergasted. Contrary to the estimates filling umpteen newspaper columns for years, the defense secretary and the general concluded that a military attack was capable of causing the near-total destruction of Iran’s nuclear program with the after-effects on its strategic and military infrastructure lingering for years.
Tehran, they reported, would be unable to revive its nuclear program for at least 3-5 years for reasons that include lack of the vast funds needed for the renewal project.
“This is a very different report from all previous reports on this topic,” said one source, “And the president was most impressed by it.”
Other Washington sources noted that the president would not have commissioned this report were he not preparing for a final decision regarding an Iranian strike.
Obama spends hours with the general who would lead an attack on Iran
The skeptics also point to certain of the president’s other activities as raising questions.
For instance, Obama is spending much more time than ever before in consultation with Gen. James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command, whose job it would be to command a US strike on Iran if one was ordered.
The more they meet, the more the president voices appreciation of the 62-year old general’s judgment and analytical skills, gained in a long and illustrious career in complex roles in the Marines, some in the Middle East. His admirers call him “the warrior monk;” his detractors, “Mad Dog Mattis.”
Little significance is attached to the recently reported presidential refusal of Mattis’ request for a third aircraft carrier and naval striking force to be added to the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Enterprise in the Persian Gulf. Our military sources note that U.S. fleets’ operational plans routinely take into account that for any Persian Gulf or Middle East war (such as in Syria), a third aircraft carrier with strike force must be at hand for immediate dispatch to the region of conflict in the shortest possible sailing time through the Indian Ocean.
As a highly-professional military man, Gen. Mattis would follow the commander-in-chief’s orders to the letter.