In the diplomatic space where the real bargaining is taking place, far from Geneva, the US and Iran are coming around to accepting that a comprehensive deal for resolving the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program is out of reach now – and maybe forever. And so, better a partial accord than none.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s sources, therefore, US President Barack Obama’s close circle has turned from its focus on bargaining for a deal with Iran, to deliberating how best to sell a partial agreement to Congress and the American public.
Each side for its own reasons, held back from going the extra mile that would have closed at least a partial deal at the meeting between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany ending in Geneva Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Although the US led a chorus hailing the event as “substantive” and forward-looking, Russian negotiator Sergey Ryabkov commented sourly: “There could have been better cooperation.”
Regarding the only solid decision coming out of the conference, which was to reconvene on Nov 7-8, Ryabkov said he saw no guarantee of any further progress in future nuclear talks with Iran.
He sounded as though he expected Moscow to be called in to save the day for there to be any chance of bridging the gaps left by the first round of negotiations.
Obama and Netanyahu in mutual mistrust
Obama did not miss the tough talk on Capitol Hill. But he was not averse to it reaching the right ears in Tehran: “Iran’s first confidence-building action should be… immediate suspension of all enrichment activity,” said a letter released Monday Oct. 14 by the office of Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Other US lawmakers seek new legislation for harsher sanctions on Iran. They speak of severe penalties for anyone trading with Iranian individuals or organizations already subject to sanctions. This is Iran’s most productive sanctions-busting stratagem, which is used also by US firms.
The US President understands it will hard to get a partial nuclear accord with Iran past Capitol Hill and even harder past Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
Obama is perfectly aware that Netanyahu and Sen. Menendez are working hand in hand to frustrate his outreach toward an understanding with Tehran.
Neither can he ignore Netanyahu’s vocal reminders that Israel’s military option for preempting an Iran nuclear weapon is solidly in place and ready to go. The trigger could well be Israel’s reading of a partial nuclear accord with Tehran as leaving Iran enough leeway to get away with more deceit to Israel’s detriment.
Jerusalem’s mistrust of the Obama administration is sparked each time Israel tries to bring to White House attention intelligence evidence that Iran is cheating, only to be brushed off with the comment that the subject is still under discussion.
Israel thrown out of the Geneva loop
Matters came to a head with the total gag order the White House gave US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who leads the US delegation at the Geneva talks with Iran from the time they began Tuesday, Oct. 15. The blanket gag tactic has been used by US Secretary of State John Kerry in two instances: the understandings he negotiated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, and the Israel-Palestinian talks under US aegis.
When Netanyahu realized he had been thrown out of the loop of the Geneva negotiations with Iran, his irritation turned to fury over what he viewed as another move by Obama to shut him out of nuclear diplomacy with Tehran and deny him any opportunity to upset the prospects of an accord inimical to Israel’s security.
The Israeli prime minister hit back on the same day, Tuesday October 15, in a speech to a Knesset session marking the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War: That war taught us, he said, never to forgo in advance the option of a preemptive strike.
“Such a strike is not called for in every situation,” said Netanyahu, “and it must be weighed very carefully. But the international reaction that it would draw would pale in comparison to the price Israel would pay in lives for a strategic blow that we are compelled to respond to later, when it’s too late.”
Netanyahu was warning Washington of the danger that its policy and its bargaining stance in Geneva would end up claiming a bitter price from Israel unless it took preventive action.
Never has an Israeli leader fired such sharp arrows at any United States policy.
America’s 10-point proposal for Iran
The prime minister had it in for the Obama administration before the P5+1 sat down face to face with Iran in the Swiss town on Oct. 15. Three days earlier, the Obama administration secretly presented Tehran with 10 conditions for a US-Iran accord on its nuclear program and the easing of sanctions.
DEBKA Weekly 606 of October 11 disclosed Iran’s five main concessions (US-Iran – a Done Deal. Obama, Putin and Khamenei Finishing Drafting a Partial Nuclear Accord)
In this issue, DEBKA Weekly outlines the 10 most important American policy points:
1. The US agrees to let Iran enrich uranium to the 5-percent level.
2. A cap of 1,000 kilograms of enriched uranium is placed on quantities.
3. Shipping out or safeguarding the balance of this enriched material is a sine qua non.
4. All 20-percent enriched uranium must be shipped outside Iran.
5. All uranium enrichment plants in Iran will continue to function, except for one, provided they employ no more than 5,000 centrifuges – a quarter of the 19,000 functioning at present.
6. The functioning centrifuges must belong exclusively to the first, slow IR-1 generation. The addition of the faster and more advanced IR-2 centrifuges would lower the 5,000 ceiling and be subject to separate negotiation.
7. The underground Fordo plant will be shut down permanently for all types of nuclear activity – civilian and military.
8. The American government or an international consortium formed for this purpose will help Iran convert the heavy water reactor under construction in Arak to a light water reactor – i.e., from plutonium production for nuclear weapons to electricity.
9. Iran will ratify the NPT Additional Protocol allowing snap inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
10. The US insists on free access for the IAEA inspectors to any suspect facility, including those not named as nuclear sites in international reports on Iran’s nuclear program.
Complications in Washington and Tehran
From the outset, the Obama administration never expected Iran to succumb on all these points – or even agree to discuss them. But President Obama needed to show the American public and Israel that he had gone to every possible length to preclude a nuclear-armed Iran and was forced ultimately to give some slack to save the entire nuclear diplomatic ship from sinking.
A Western source familiar with the negotiations said this week that Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may find it easier to “sell” a deal with the US to members of his regime than it will be for Obama to sell it in Washington.
In Tehran, however, radical factions of the regime are up in arms against any suggestion of détente with the United States, as we see in the next item.