The latest round of diplomacy between Iran and the P5+1 (US, France, UK, Russia, China and Germany) taking place in Vienna this week was touted optimistically as decisive for drafting a comprehensive nuclear accord to resolve the decades-long dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program by the July 21 deadline and avert a Middle East war.
It was no such thing.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and Iranian sources reveal that the parties meeting in the Austrian capital Tuesday night, May 14, were snowed under by a mountain of debilitating crises, starting with the wide gap between Washington and Tehran, in spite of their pro-active back-channel exchanges.
Iran is beset by profound domestic political strife (as DEBKA Weekly reported last week), as a result of which the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has come down against the pro-diplomacy president Hassan Rouhani. The ayatollah has clipped his wings and clamped down on his leeway for conducting negotiations on the nuclear issue.
Israel’s profound concerns over the direction taken by Iran’s nuclear program and the games it is playing in the region have proven resistant to US efforts at reassurance.
(See more about this in a separate article.)
Interim ban on Iranian enrichment expires
According to our sources, the Americans and Iranians had concluded in their confidential side-track, before the Vienna session began, that finalizing a comprehensive deal by July 21 was a mission impossible in view of the many hurdles in their path.
This has caused US President Barack Obama to shift ground and reach two major decisions, which are revealed here by our Washington sources:
1. The deadline for a final accord will be pushed back six months to January 15, 2015.
In Washington, they’re saying that Obama is pushing things too far. The delay is extremely problematic.
Under the interim Joint Plan of Action signed by the P5+1 and Iran last November, Tehran accepted the prohibition on the use of its new extra-fast IR2 centrifuges for uranium enrichment and other restrictions – but only for a period of six months. This deal was meant to be temporary until replaced by a final accord to be negotiated by the July 21 deadline.
Postponing this deadline will throw the interim deal into limbo. The ban on the centrifuges will expire and so will the agreed ceiling on the 5.3 percent enriched uranium Iran is allowed to stock.
Once the new centrifuges are up and running, no one in Washington will have a clue as to how much uranium Tehran is enriching.
Obama seeks congressional nod for military action as leverage
2. The second decision is for the White House to submit new legislation to Congress authorizing the president to take military action against Iran without congressional approval – if Iran proves to be cheating on current and future accords.
Monday, May 12, a UN panel released a new report exposing Iran’s methods of evading sanctions, including such techniques as the concealment of titanium tubes and the use of the petrochemical industry as cover for obtaining items for nuclear enrichment, such as a heavy-water nuclear reactor.
The experts’ report, which was put before the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee, said Tehran may have learned how to outsmart security and intelligence services in its efforts to acquire sensitive components and materials.
DEBKA File’s sources say no one in Washington or Tehran believes Obama will actually resort to military force against Iran. But a congressional license to do so would provide the president with some leverage in his backchannel talks with the Iranians, which have so far led nowhere.
Our Washington sources add that in their confidential exchanges with the Iranians, the Americans are now laying down four stipulations:
Obama’s four stipulations of Tehran
a) The heavy water-plutonium reactor in Arak must be replaced by a light water plant. This demand is non-negotiable for Washington.
b) Iran is required to sign the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), that permits snap inspections on nuclear facilities – as well as a new protocol Washington is preparing for additional restrictions on the nuclear programs of signatories.
Our sources in Tehran expect Iran to refuse to sign both these documents.
c) Tehran must scrap enrichment operations at the underground Fordo plant and replace them with research and development projects.
d) The US seeks to open discussions on the Iranian ICBM systems capable of reaching Europe and the US. Our military sources name six types as of special interest: the Sajjil, Safir, Simorgh, Shahab-4, Ashura 1 and Ashura missiles.
This US demand evoked a furious response from Khamenei, who declared on May 11 that Iran’s missiles are on no account up for review.
Khamenei shuts the door to further nuclear concessions
“They expect us to limit our missile program while they constantly threaten Iran with military action. So this is a stupid, idiotic expectation,” the ayatollah was quoted as telling the state-run IRNA news agency, while visiting a Revolutionary Guards Corps aeronautics fair.
“The Revolutionary Guards should definitely carry out their program and not be satisfied with the present level. They should mass produce. This is a main duty of all military officials," Khamenei said.
His words underscored the large gap between the nuclear policy he espouses and Rouhani’s more moderate approach, on which President Obama banked for his policy of détente with Iran.
For some weeks now, our Iranian sources have been reporting on Khamenei’s obdurate resolve to withhold any more concessions to the US and the world powers on Iran’s nuclear program.
In DEBKA Weekly 634 of May 4, under the caption: “Rev Guards Won’t Give Up Nuclear Weapon – The Proximity of Nuclear Accord Brings Iran Closer to a Military Coup,” we pinned down the supreme leader’s latest decision to shift his support on the nuclear issue from the pro-diplomacy faction led by Rouhani to the radical Revolutionary Guards.
He took that decision to head off a military putsch that would have reduced him to a figurehead and precluded any chance of Tehran gaining any rewards from nuclear diplomacy.