The Kremlin claimed in a message to the White House this week that Moscow had managed to steer Iran into accepting a state it calls “nuclear restraint” for all parts of its disputed nuclear program. This has convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin that Washington and Tehran are provided with enough common ground to lay their nuclear controversy to rest and sign off on a final accord between the Six Powers and the Islamic republic by year’s end.
(See the last DEBKA Weekly issue 608 of Oct. 25: Penultimate Draft for Nuclear Deal by Christmas?)
A close look at the four Russian “achievements” presents a picture that is far from cut and dried:
1. Tehran will not suspend uranium enrichment up to 20 percent. It will accept a quantitative ceiling on such material to be established in agreement with the P5+1 negotiating forum (US, Russia, France, China, UK and Germany).
This lets Iran off the hook of a commitment to stop producing weapons-grade uranium.
Al the conflicting statements issued by Iranian officials in the last week were no more than a smokescreen to disguise this achievement.
2. Tehran will not be asked to reduce the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to various levels – 3.5 percent up to 20 percent. However, since only 9,000 of the total 19,000 machines are in use at the moment, Iran is ready to keep the remaining 10,000 centrifuges inactive.
While Moscow presents this as a major Iranian concession, DEBKA Weekly’s sources find it is no more than a façade set up by the Russians and Iranians to screen the substantial hardening of Tehran’s position.
Moscow buys Iran’s Ifs and buts as “concessions”
At one point in the past, our sources recall, Iran looked like buying the US proposition to leave no more than 5,000 centrifuges spinning for the production of the low 5-percent enriched material – and nothing but. The rest were to be dismantled.
The Iranians appear now to have wheedled the Russians into accepting that their entire stock of centrifuges be left intact –so that, should they renege on their deal with the six powers, the centrifuges will be available at a moment’s notice to return to full-scale military-grade enrichment and provide them with the capacity to produce several atomic bombs in the space of 10 days.
By the time Washington catches on and reacts – not to mention the UN nuclear watchdog and other international organizations, Iran will be way ahead in the process of building nuclear bombs or warheads.
3. Iran has agreed, say the Russians, “to restrain weaponization processes.”
Up until now, Iran maintained that it had had no weapons programs. Russian officials supported this position. President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated more than once that they had seen no proof that Iran was running a nuclear weapons program.
Tehran’s offer to “restrain” weaponization – meaning the production of warheads that can be delivered by aircraft and missiles – gives the lie to its protestations of peaceful intentions.
4. The Kremlin boasted to the White House of persuading Iran to ‘freeze’ is nuclear projects as they stand now.
Our sources confirm that this “concession” permits Iran to put its program on hold without letting go of a single integral element or component.
Moscow is in a hurry for a deal before Israel strikes
The Kremlin has been relentlessly pressing the Obama administration to buy the “nuclear restraint” package it has negotiated with Tehran. According our sources in Moscow and Washington, Putin is intent on modeling an Iranian nuclear settlement on the understanding the US and Russia reached for Syria.
He is in a hurry, fearing that a single Israeli military strike could potentially not only cripple Iran’s nuclear program but also sweep away the Kremlin’s entire Middle East strategy.
(See the article on Russia’s return to Egypt).
American and Russian officials alike are keenly aware of the updated assessment by the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies of Israel’s military capacity. They now conclude that the Israeli Defense Forces have attained the ability to attack Iran’s nuclear plants without US or any other military assistance.
And whereas it was commonly assumed in the last three years Israel on its own could not hold Iran’s program back by more than two to three years, this assessment has been revised upwards. The experts now estimate that Israel is armed with the means for retarding Iran’s nuclear development by up to 10 years if the operation is fully successful. Even a less successful operation could push the program back by seven years.
US and intelligence surveillance report that in the last couple of weeks, Israel is intensifying its preparations for a strike against Iran. The Russians hope to convince President Barack Obama that ongoing negotiations are the best way to hold Israel’s hand against such an attack lest it be accused of sabotaging diplomacy. For this reason, they argue, Israel is doing its utmost to stall the talks by demonstrating that Iran is cheating and campaigning for tighter sanctions.
Obama resolved to stick with Putin – even at risk of Israeli attack on Iran
In an apparent riposte to the Israeli campaign, US Secretary of State John Kerry came out Monday, Oct. 28, with a forceful defense of diplomacy “as the way to try to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear weapons program.”
Addressing a disarmament forum, Kerry said that the United States has "an opportunity to try to put to test whether or not Iran really desires to pursue only a peaceful program, and will submit to the standards of the international community in the effort to prove that to the world.”
He added “… not to explore that possibility would be the height of irresponsibility…
In response to Israel’s demand for more pressure on Tehran, Kerry commented cuttingly, "some have suggested that somehow there's something wrong" with giving diplomacy a chance. “… We will not succumb to those fear tactics and forces that suggest otherwise."
The next day, a group of Jewish leaders was invited to meet National Security Council officials at the White House for a briefing on the negotiations with Iran.
Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, took the opportunity to sharply criticize John Kerry for his “inappropriate” criticism of Binyamin Netanyahu for using what he called “fear tactics” – although Kerry never mentioned the prime minister by name.
By inviting the Jewish leaders to the White House, the Obama administration was making an effort to defuse the acrimony in its relations with Jerusalem. But it was made clear that the president will pursue his close collaboration with Vladimir Putin for a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian question, even at the risk of pushing Israel ever closer to exercising its military option against Iran’s nuclear program.