The interim nuclear accord signed by the six world powers and Iran on Nov. 24, 2013, was not intended to be the end of the road. American and Iranian statesmen have constantly reiterated it was the prelude for a final, comprehensive accord to be reached by the end of 2014 for finally settling the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program.
Assurances from the horses’ mouths were delivered most recently by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
After the two officials got together at last week’s Munich Security Forum, Kerry said Sunday, Feb. 2: "The goal is a comprehensive agreement that ends a 10-year diplomatic impasse and ensures that Iran cannot quickly redirect its advanced nuclear development work to build a bomb.”
He added that he had repeatedly said negotiations will be extremely difficult.
Two days later, Tuesday Feb. 4, it was the Iranian foreign minister’s turn. At a joint news conference in Tehran with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Zarif said: "In a meeting with US Secretary of State, John Kerry, we mostly talked about negotiations on a nuclear deal and a comprehensive agreement."
Referring to previous talks, he reported: "Kerry said the US is committed to pursuing the case. And this case has to come to a conclusion."
Sherman reveals “additional steps” before final nuclear deal
But then, later that day, testimony offered by senior US Iran negotiator Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, conveyed a quite different impression.
The session was stormy and the senators gave Sherman a hard time on the interim nuclear deal she had signed for a six-month freeze on Iran’s nuclear program.
She was forced to admit that this initial agreement was "not perfect," adding, "We see it as a first step so we don't consider the gaps that exist [and] loopholes because this is not a final agreement."
But when lawmakers continued to press her, she disclosed that the Joint Plan of Action "required Iran to come clean on past actions as part of a comprehensive agreement."
She suggested there will be an additional step or steps between the Phase 1 deal and the final deal, to bring Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Tehran would be required to address such questions as the possible military dimensions to its nuclear program, and alleged weaponization work carried out at the Parchin facility, to which the IAEA had been repeatedly denied access.
"Iran has not rejected addressing it," Sherman said. "It knows it has to be addressed."
Dragging negotiations out to the end of Obama’s presidency
The US negotiator’s disclosure that "there will be an additional step or steps between the Phase 1 deal and the final deal" raised alarm in the Middle East capitals, including Tehran. It was interpreted as having only one meaning: Instead of driving the diplomatic process straight through from interim to comprehensive accords, Washington was spinning the process out by one or more partial deals along the way. In fact, Sherman’s comment showed the Obama administration to have embarked on a series of multiple interim deals to drag out a comprehensive accord on Iran’s nuclear program for another two years, i.e. up until 2016.
It is then that Obama’s second term as US president runs out.
His delaying tactics aim to let him off the hook of making good on his pledge of military action against a non-compliant nuclear Iran, and enables him to pass the nuclear hot potato to his successor in the White House.
With unusual candor for a high-placed diplomat, Wendy Sherman also disclosed the main issues to be discussed with Tehran.
Her disclosures further confirmed the Obama administration’s delaying tactics.
Iran refuses to close Fordo, suspend Arak or stop enrichment
The United States does not believe the underground Fordo site should be an enrichment facility in a final deal,” she said, “or that Iran should have a heavy water reactor.”
“Asked about the centrifuges for enriching uranium, the US diplomat said: “I am not going to get into specific numbers in this setting, but that needs to be addressed.”
When Robert Menendez (D-NJ) asked: “Will there need to be a reduction?” Sherman replied, “Yes.” Sherman also clarified misunderstandings about the research and development on centrifuges allowed Iran under the Joint Plan of Action-JPOA. Tehran is not permitted to work on the advanced centrifuges not listed in the UN nuclear watchdog’s Nov 14, 2013 report, she said. “It can only replace centrifuges at enrichment sites of the same type, not with more advanced models."
Since signing the November interim accord, Iran has stated more than once at the highest level that it has no intention of shutting down the underground enrichment site at Fordo, suspending construction of the heavy water reactor in Arak, stopping uranium enrichment or developing new advanced centrifuges. Therefore, these fundamental issues have been left for additional interim deals to be negotiated in the next two years.
The agenda laid down by Wendy Sherman therefore generates a two-year delay before the cardinal issue of Iran’s nuclear program – its military dimension – is approached.
Tehran basks in sanctions relief
Tehran is meanwhile basking in the profits of sanctions relief. They are delivered to its door without having to make the slightest effort.
This week, Japan started paying for its oil purchases in cash. No one asked about the mechanics of payment. It was taken for granted that the blockage on payments to Iran via the international banking system had been lifted.
The US has begun to release Iran’s frozen oil revenues, remitting to Tehran some half a billion dollars.
A party of 116 French business leaders and industrialists, including automakers, landed in Tehran this week, their pens held ready to ink in new transactions with the Islamic Republic.
On Tuesday Feb. 4 Secretary Kerry tried phoning French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to ask him to slow down, as "it is not yet business as usual" with Iran. The descent of private businessmen on Tehran, he said, was "not helpful.”
This appeal had no effect. Not a single member of the French delegation left Tehran to return to Paris.