Here’s one of those impossible logical conundrums, of the sort that Captain Kirk could use to short-circuit a killer robot: who’s lying, Barack Obama or Iran?
Because Iran says the Obama White House is lying about their nuclear weapons agreement. And their charges are quite plausible, especially to Americans who have grown wearily familiar with the Obama brand of dishonest politics. From the Washington Free Beacon:
The White House released a multi-page fact sheet containing details of the draft agreement shortly after the deal was announced.
However, Iranian foreign ministry official on Tuesday rejected the White House’s version of the deal as “invalid” and accused Washington of releasing a factually inaccurate primer that misleads the American public.
“What has been released by the website of the White House as a fact sheet is a one-sided interpretation of the agreed text in Geneva and some of the explanations and words in the sheet contradict the text of the Joint Plan of Action, and this fact sheet has unfortunately been translated and released in the name of the Geneva agreement by certain media, which is not true,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkhamtold the Iranian press on Tuesday.
Afkham and officials said that the White House has “modified” key details of the deal and released their own version of the agreement in the fact sheet.
The big sticking point is Iran’s “right to enrich uranium,” which the theocracy is very keen on insisting they have secured from the hapless Obama foreign policy team, even though the deal has not been finalized yet. They certainly don’t seem worried about spooking the U.S. away from the bargaining table. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani immediately took to Twitter to proclaim that his talks with the Obama Administration “progressed in such a way that the rights of the Iranian nation to peaceful nuclear energy and enrichment were acknowledged by world powers.”
“The most important thing about the agreement in Geneva is not what happens during the coming six months, but the principles on which we have agreed,” Rouhani added. ”We’ll have enrichment on our soil and will end sanctions in a comprehensive accord; Iran will be treated as any other member of the NPT.” The latter is a reference to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
And now the Iranians are openly calling the White House liars for disagreeing with any of this posturing. They see no need to pretend that they’ve made any real concessions in exchange for billions of dollars in revenue, relaxed sanctions, and an effective green light to fulfill their nuclear ambitions. Iran won’t even let Obama work his usual con job on the American people to save a little face. They want to count coup on the President, humiliating him after taking him to the cleaners. Who can blame them? When you find yourself at a negotiating table with Secretary of State John Kerry – his face still dripping with Syrian egg – you take advantage of the opportunity.
Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, writing at the Weekly Standard, agrees with the Iranian perspective that the deal secures their “right to enrich,” while granting them precious time to work on their bombs, valuable international legitimacy, and a good chance to tear the sanctions regime to pieces:
This interim agreement is badly skewed from America’s perspective. Iran retains its full capacity to enrich uranium, thus abandoning a decade of Western insistence and Security Council resolutions that Iran stop all uranium-enrichment activities. Allowing Iran to continue enriching, and despite modest (indeed, utterly inadequate) measures to prevent it from increasing its enriched-uranium stockpiles and its overall nuclear infrastructure, lays the predicate for Iran fully enjoying its “right” to enrichment in any “final” agreement. Indeed, the interim agreement itself acknowledges that a “comprehensive solution” will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program.” This is not, as the Obama administration leaked before the deal became public, a “compromise” on Iran’s claimed “right” to enrichment. This is abject surrender by the United States.
Bolton thinks the real target of the agreement was Israel. If Iran sees it that way, too, it would go a long way towards explaining why they feel no pressure to remain on their best diplomatic behavior until the ink is dry.
Buying time for its own sake makes sense in some negotiating contexts, but the sub silentio objective here was to jerry-rig yet another argument to wield against Israel and its fateful decision whether or not to strike Iran. Obama, fearing that strike more than an Iranian nuclear weapon, clearly needed greater international pressure on Jerusalem. And Jerusalem fully understands that Israel was the real target of the Geneva negotiations. How, therefore, should Israel react?
Most importantly, the deal leaves the basic strategic realities unchanged. Iran’s nuclear program was, from its inception, a weapons program, and it remains one today. Even modest constraints, easily and rapidly reversible, do not change that fundamental political and operational reality. And while some already-known aspects of Iran’s nuclear program are returned to enhanced scrutiny, the undeclared and likely unknown military work will continue to expand, thus recalling the drunk looking for his lost car keys under the street lamp because of the better lighting.
Moreover, the international climate of opinion against a strike will only harden during the next six months. Capitalizing on the deal, Iran’s best strategy is to accelerate the apparent pace of rapprochement with the all-too-eager West. The further and faster Iran can move, still making only superficial, easily reversible concessions in exchange for dismantling the sanctions regime, the greater the international pressure against Israel using military force. Iran will not suddenly, Ahmadinejad-style, openly defy Washington or Jerusalem and trumpet cheating and violations. Instead, Tehran will go to extraordinary lengths to conceal its activities, working for example in new or unknown facilities and with North Korea, or shaving its compliance around the edges. The more time that passes, the harder it will be for Israel to deliver a blow that substantially retards the Iranian program.
Under those calculations, it makes sense for Iran to be intransigent about the one thing they just can’t afford to play nice on, namely uranium enrichment. And a weak White House that became a global laughingstock in Syria is in no position to win a game of liar’s poker against them. From the early days of the Arab Spring, Obama foreign policy has been creating a post-American reality in the Middle East. When Iran gets the bomb, that process will be nearly complete.
Update: Michael Doran and James Glassman at the American Enterprise Institute speculate that Team Obama is deliberately boosting Iran’s wealth and prestige to set them up as the dominant power in the Middle East, because they seem to be the most stable dungeon state in a sea of tottering regimes:
Iran has a population of 76 million, a government that hasn’t changed in 34 years, and a GDP greater than Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, and Yemen combined. No one knows who will be running Egypt or Saudi Arabia a few years from now, but Iran has withstood a serious rebellion with impressive resilience – and has rescued the Syrian regime from an even more threatening uprising.
That, at any rate, is how a self-styled realist might view Iran. Blinkers are clearly required. The administration has to ignore what a tilt to Iran would do to relations with the Israelis, Saudis, and Sunnis in general. It has to ignore that the United States has traditionally stood for freedom and against religious tyranny – both for moral and practical reasons. But what are the other choices? The Iranian temptation is strong.
It does seem as though one of the primary unstated goals of Obama foreign policy, up to the Syrian crisis, was to avoid doing anything that would weaken or infuriate Iran. A theorist of sufficiently Machiavellian mind could suggest that Syria was bungled so badly that Obama wanted the more Iran-friendly outcome that was finally reached – he turned the tactics that could have toppled the Assad regime into a Three Stooges farce that hardly anyone in the U.S. government, save the most dedicated Syria hawks, could support. (And the dedicated Syria hawks, such as Senator John McCain, ended up looking rather foolish by the time it was over.) There is much evidence to suggest that Obama tossed off his Syrian “red line” bluster as a bit of empty rhetoric, without serious thought that his bluff might one day be called. Perhaps everything that transpired after the chemical weapons attacks in Syria was his way of defusing momentum for actions he nominally desired, but secretly feared might jeopardize his Iran strategy.
One of the biggest kinks in this theory is that Iran certainly isn’t behaving as though it’s a party to such a devious clandestine strategy. If they were, they would be more eager to grease the wheels for this deal by muting their “right to enrich” triumphalism, secure in the knowledge that Obama would hand them the keys to the Middle East before he left office. If Doran and Glassman’s theory is correct, maybe it’s a strategy Obama’s foreign policy team has been pursuing without telling the Iranians, for fear of inflaming their easily inflamed anti-American sentiments.