Devil in Details

12.11.13

Iran Nuke Deal Keeps Getting Worse

As more devilish details of the U.S.-brokered nuclear agreement are revealed, it’s becoming clearer that America got a raw deal.

"The more we learn about the Iran nuclear deal, the worse it looks."

I've used that lead before about the deal, and as things are going, I'll be using it again. Here's today's shocker, as reported in Ha'aretz. (For those of you who don't pay attention to the variations in the Israel press, please note that Ha'aretz is the most left-wing major paper in Israel, the local equivalent of The Guardian in the U.K.) 

Senior officials in the administration of President Barack Obama have conceded over the past few days in conversations with colleagues in Israel that the value of the economic sanctions relief to Iran could be much higher than originally thought in Washington, security sources in Israel told Haaretz.

In official statements by the United States immediately after the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program was signed in Geneva between Iran and the six powers at the end of November it was said that the economic relief Iran would receive in exchange for signing the agreement would be relatively low – $6 billion or $7 billion. Israeli assessments were much higher – about $20 billion at least." 

According to Ha'aretz, US officials now agree: the early Israeli estimates were correct.

Just as U.S. concessions were under-estimated, so we are discovering almost weekly that Iranian concessions were overstated. There will be no halt to the Iranian nuclear program, no "freeze." Even the central demand of U.S. negotiators—a halt to the plutonium-capable facility at Arak—was perforated with exemptions: Iran pledged only not to commission or fuel Arak, but other construction continues, according to the Iranians themselves.

Reuters:

According to the agreed text, Iran said it would not make "any further advances of its activities" on the Arak reactor, under construction near a western Iranian town with that name.

"Capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there," Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcast on Iran's Press TV.

Iranian nuclear enrichment continues too, although the enriched uranium must be stored in a form that is temporarily unusable for weapons-making. 

The deal also appears to contain an unwritten understanding that the United States will refrain from imposing further sanctions on Iran—and go easy on enforcing such sanctions as remain in force. 

The Daily Beast's Eli Lake and Josh Rogin have that story. Reporting just before the nuclear deal was signed in Geneva, they observed:

In the six weeks prior to the Iranian elections in June, the Treasury Department issued seven notices of designations of sanctions violators that included more than 100 new people, companies, aircraft, and sea vessels.

Since June 14, however, when Rouhani was elected, the Treasury Department has only issued two designation notices that have identified six people and four companies as violating the Iran sanctions.

The Obama administration seems to have decided that the real value of the nuclear deal is the process that produced the deal, much more than specific contents of the deal. The administration seems to think: Let the deal be ambiguous, if it must—in the mood of goodwill that follows dealmaking, troubles and irritants can be smoothed out later.

But what if the mood on the opposite side of the table is not good will, but a cynical determination to pocket everything it can extract now, in return for breakable, trivial, and reversible pledges of better behavior in the future? In that case, what we are facing is not a flawed but hopeful deal leading to a better outcome in six months: it is a sad hornswoggling of over-eager American negotiators by Iranian counterparts as determined as ever to reach their dangerous aims.