The United States entered into direct negotiations with Iran on the halting of its nuclear arms program on Dec. 1 at a top-secret venue. They talked against a backdrop of gathering military suspense – especially around the Syrian crisis, about which a separate item in this issue.
(The scheduling of those talks was first disclosed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 567 of Nov. 30)
The US delegation came to the table with tough stipulations, ranging across its opening position and extending all the way to the final outcome expected by President Barack Obama.
A three-month limit set for the talks ends on March 1.
If by then, Iran fails to make substantial headway toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program, President Obama intends bringing the issue of Iran’s illegal nuclear arms development before the UN Security Council – either directly or through the international nuclear agency (IAEA).
But Obama made it clear to Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from the word go that he would not be bound by diplomatic niceties or wait around for a UN resolution. A negotiating stalemate would find the US ready for military action – whether unilaterally or with NATO.
If Russia and China choose to go along with the US at the Security Council, this would be preferable. But Washington does not intend being held back by their vetoes – as was the case in the Syrian conflict until now.
Tehran’s last chance for a diplomatic settlement
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington and intelligence sources report that President Obama directed the senior White House, National Security Council (NSC), Pentagon, and State Department officials engaged in the Iranian issue, to make absolutely sure there would be no misunderstandings on the Iranian side. They were to repeat in unison that this was Tehran’s last chance of a diplomatic solution for giving up their nuclear weapon option. If Tehran missed it, the United States would not shrink from a military operation.
The US therefore goes into nuclear talks with Iran with a big stick on the table, in line with the spiraling military tensions in the Middle East at large.
At home, President Obama faces strong opposition from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the still influential former national security adviser to another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. Speaking for a certain Washington camp, he called a potential attack on Iran “an act of utter irresponsibility” and “potentially a significant immorality” if the United States participated.
He made these comments in Washington on Nov. 26 at an event organized by the National Iranian American Council and the Arms Control Association.
In Brzezinski’s view, military strikes on Iran, either by the United States or Israel, would be the worst available option for stopping Tehran’s “alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.”
But Obama has decided to ignore this criticism.
Three ground rules, seven demands
The Obama roadmap for the talks with Iran consists of three ground rules for the negotiations and four basic demands of Tehran, as revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
First the ground rules:
1. Any Iranian attempts to kick out IAEA inspectors during the three-month negotiating period, bar their access to nuclear facilities, which was promised under Tehran’s agreements with the IAEA in Vienna, or interfere with the operation of the cameras or sensors installed at suspect nuclear facilities, would be deemed by President Obama a priori as notice of an order by Ayatollah Khamenei to elevate Iran’s nuclear program to HEU (highly enriched uranium) and “break-out” capacity – up to the building/assembly of a nuclear weapon.
This proviso was inserted as a safeguard against Iran manufacturing a crisis for dragging out the talks and trying to soften up the American negotiators.
2. The Obama administration firmly shut the door in advance on any Iranian bid for recognized nuclear status on the model of India or Pakistan, which have attained a balance of terror. The Americans argue that the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad keep their nuclear arsenals under control with safety devices against unforeseen nuclear emergences, whereas no such inhibitors are embedded in Iran’s program.
Israel’s nuclear arms – a non-issue
3. Neither will the Obama administration brook Iranian tactics for presenting their nuclear capability as a justified deterrent against Israel’s nuclear arms. The Israeli case will be treated as redundant and irrelevant to the framework of a possible US-Iranian understanding – if one is attained.
It was in this regard, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report, that Washington found it imperative to prevent Iranian warships from rendezvousing in Port Sudan Friday, Nov. 30 with Pakistani vessels suspected of carrying nuclear weapons.
This event was seen as a maneuver for enhancing Iran’s status as the military partner of a nuclear power and, moreover, deploying that power for the first time in the Red Sea opposite Saudi Arabia and in international waters off the coasts of Egypt and Israel.
The Obama administration determined to keep Pakistani nuclear capacity as far away as possible from the inflammable Middle East.
Actions for backing up words
Now for the US demands put before the Iranian negotiating team:
4. The immediate cessation of 20-percent uranium enrichment at the underground facility in Fordo near Qom. The stocks already accumulated must be quickly converted into nuclear plates from which it is difficult to manufacture nuclear weapons.
5. The Obama administration is willing to set up with Tehran a joint system for the winding down of Iran’s nuclear weapon program and removing its fissile material stocks – on similar lines to the US-Russian mechanism which operated successfully twenty years ago.
The United States then offered Russia and the newly-independent former Soviet republics technical and generous financial assistance through the Nunn-Lugar Program to aid with the transportation, storage, and elimination of the nuclear weapons materials, enriched uranium and nuclear stocks on their territory.
If Tehran objects to a similar joint mechanism, the Obama administration would be willing to help Iran sell its enriched uranium stock on the world market in accordance with UN nuclear agency rules.
6. The Obama administration presented the Iranians with a list of ten Iranian nuclear sites where military nuclear development is reported. The most important is the Parchin military complex, about 30 kilometers southeast of Tehran, where nuclear explosions are believed to have been tested.
The Iranians have so far prevented IAEA inspections at Parchin. They are now required to make them possible within the three-month negotiating period.
Khamenei has not yet ordered HEU production
7. So far, Khamenei is not known in Washington to have issued instructions for the start of weapons-grade uranium enrichment. However, if Tehran fails to comply with the foregoing US rules and stipulations, Washington will take it for granted that Iran’s supreme ruler is bent on this course, sooner or later, and that Tehran has decided against giving up its aspirations for nuclear weapons.
Washington has offered to open up the agenda of the bilateral talks with Tehran to include additional issues, outside their nuclear controversy, on which Iran looks for understandings with the United States.
The talks have started out at a relatively low level. The Obama administration hopes that with progress, the level on both sides will be elevated and, as more and more common ground is covered, Obama’s top White House officials will take over the dialogue vis-à-vis advisers of Khamenei who are close enough to enjoy direct access to the ayatollah.
Above all, the Obama administration is more determined than ever before to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In case diplomacy fails to bring about Iran’s nuclear disarmament, the White House has its strategy ready for an approach to the UN Security Council.
Failing concerted international action, however, the United States is ready to consider acting for this objective by means of its own military resources.