A mood of jubilation or even euphoria settled on White House backrooms in recent days. The US President Barak Obama’s staff quietly celebrated his success in averting a military showdown over Iran’s nuclear program by dint of a judicious blend of sanctions and diplomatic maneuvers, and persuading Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that negotiations were his best option.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources disclose exclusively that in private conversations, the presidential staff refer to the Iranian leader’s acceptance a priori of two reciprocal principles, although no confirmation of this has come from our Iranian sources:
Those principles are reported as:
1. The stoppage of all work on Iran’s military nuclear program and uranium enrichment from the moment negotiations begin; and
2. The United States to match progress in the talks with the staged easing of sanctions, which will be lifted completely upon a successful outcome.
President Obama is convinced that through their secret channel of communications (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 526 of Jan. 26: Washington and Iran Are Talking Along Three Secret Tracks), Tehran came to realize that the process of dialogue must culminate in its acceptance of five conclusions:
Nuclear development to stop forthwith and uranium enrichment discontinued
A. Development of Iran’s nuclear program must stop where it stands today;
B. Uranium enrichment will be discontinued at the current 20 percent grade level and not advance to the 90 percent grade for making nuclear bombs;
C. Iran must dismantle all facilities and labs engaged in developing nuclear bombs and warheads as well as its program for producing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear payloads;
D. Iran will open all these facilities to inspection by International Atomic Energy Agency monitors. They must be allowed to interview the scientific staff employed in Iran’s military nuclear program, including its hitherto invisible director, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, who rules over the 600 scientists, engineers and technicians believed by US intelligence to be the core staff of the program.
E. Iran must cut off its collaborative nuclear and missile ties with North Korea and undertake to abstain from transferring nuclear technology to other parties in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
If Tehran commits to and executes these five steps, the US will see to it that all sanctions against the Islamic Republic are lifted and it is restored to the international community as a respected member. Washington will provide assistance for the rebuilding of the Iranian economy, starting with multi-billion projects for modernizing its run-down oil industry.
The White House: Talks to start “immediately”
The White House is optimistic about the negotiations starting in days – although nothing is decided yet about its venue and whether the team of five permanent Security Council members (the US, Britain, France, Russia, China) plus Germany again take the seats they occupied opposite Iranian negotiators in the last round of talks.
When a senior administration official familiar with the secret US-Iranian diplomatic track, was asked by DEBK-Net-Weekly’s informants for a date, he said: “Immediately.”
This optimism accounted for the almost bored response from the US administration to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s televised boasts of nuclear achievements Wednesday, Feb. 15, namely the domestic production of 20 percent enriched uranium nuclear fuel rods and the 3,000 state-of-the-art high-speed IR4 centrifuges added to the Natanz enrichment facility.
“Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
US officials dismissed Iran’s bragging as hype for preparing the Iranian people and Muslim public for the onset of nuclear negotiations with the world powers by showing them that Tehran embraced diplomacy from a position of strength.
A reassuring note from Israel’s Ehud Barak
There is no confirmation in Washington that the Iranians have moved on to “the fourth generation” of home-made centrifuges with a higher speed and production capacity at Natanz, as claimed. They are still working on the advanced P4 machines and, apart from a few experimental models, are nowhere near ready to set up a production line for turning out these centrifuges in thousands or even hundreds.
Thursday, Feb. 16, the White House breathed a sigh of relief when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a radio interview followed Washington’s line in downplaying Iran’s display of “achievements”. He pointed out that since Tehran was still facing problems with the second generation centrifuge, P2, it was too early to believe a fourth generation was already functioning.
But the part of the Barak interview that was music to ears in Washington was this comment: “Although Iran is making progress in its nuclear program, it still has not reached the point of no return.”
The White house took this as a welcome declaration of intent meaning that, in consideration of the imminent start of negotiations with Iran, Israel would give diplomacy a chance and not rock the boat by launching a sudden military strike against its nuclear facilities.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources note that Obama and his top advisers, including intelligence and military chiefs, have been fretting for months about a possible Israeli attack on Iran without prior warning.
During their long phone conversation on Jan. 12, the US president tried to extract a promise from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to refrain from offensive action against Iran while future talks were in progress.
Netanyahu withheld this commitment.
Washington is not sure if Barak spoke off his own bat to force Netanyahu to follow his lead, or if the two leaders were playing “good cop, bad cop.”
Netanyahu stays out of the Obama game
But Thursday night, speaking from Nicosia, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put a large spoke in the Barak wheel and raised blood pressures in Washington.
He said sanctions imposed on Iran are important but so far “haven't worked.” … the Iranian president's guided tour of centrifuges at Tehran research reactor on Wednesday was proof that sanctions have not properly crippled Iran's efforts to develop nuclear capabilities.”
Iran, he said, “has been exposed as being the most irresponsible power on earth today. The one that exports terror with abandon is murdering people and breaking all the rules. This regime was born taking over an embassy (the US embassy in 1979) and is now attacking diplomats far and wide,"
"For such a regime to have nuclear weapons is something of enormous concern for the United States and for Israel," he said.