John Kerry in Geneva 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse )
WASHINGTON – Entering negotiations with Iran in Geneva last week, one senior
Obama administration official briefed journalists on America’s core strategy
The US needs time, she explained, to reach a peaceful
settlement to the slow-motion Iranian nuclear crisis once again threatening
stability in the Middle East.
The US seeks to “put time on the clock,”
she said. “It is crucial that we have this space to negotiate the final
agreement without Iran’s nuclear program continuing to march
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu knew the American strategy
full well as the second round of negotiations began on November 7. That’s
because US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Tel Aviv at the time, explaining
it to him in the flesh.
The framework of an interim deal nearly agreed
upon last week by Iran and the P5+1 powers – the US, United Kingdom, France,
China, Russia and Germany – was never intended to end the crisis in its
entirety. That is far too ambitious a goal for these diplomats, many of whom
have been a part of negotiations with Iran for nearly five years, over which
time the Islamic Republic had less leverage with a smaller nuclear
The core sanctions regime – one of the many financial levers
that can be tweaked – won’t be altered in this pending deal. The US Congress
would not allow it, the administration doesn’t want it and the UN Security
Council will not revisit their resolutions until a final-status agreement is
Just as the infrastructural framework of the Iranian nuclear
program will not be affected by this “first-step” deal, neither will the
infrastructure of the international sanctions regime, the Americans
EU members continue to strain under the pressures of the
sanctions they have unilaterally imposed on Tehran. And yet it was the French
delegation, not the Americans, that chose to walk away from the deal until the
enforcement of its provisions could be satisfactorily ensured.
end the crisis, much still needs to be done: the Iranians have stockpiled more
than 350 kg. of 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride – enough material, if
further enriched, to provide Iran with several nuclear warheads. And the
Iranians are far from agreeing to give up all uranium enrichment on Persian
soil, which they say is the inalienable right of all nations.
war is a different standard, and this is the primary goal of the White House.
All the administration needs are some basic concessions: the Iranians must halt
enrichment to dangerous levels; allow for international oversight where there
are gaps in Western intelligence; and refrain from fueling the Arak plutonium
reactor, which cannot be attacked militarily after fueling has occurred without
the risk of radioactive release.
The deal the US seeks would not end
tensions, nor would it end Iran’s nuclear program. But it would essentially
arrest the crisis.
It would temporarily freeze those marching toward war
Like the North Koreans, Iran could always kick out
inspectors and resume its activities weeks or months after the deal is cut, but
in the interim, a final deal could be forged if all parties are genuinely
interested in a peaceful settlement. The Americans plan on testing that resolve
with this first-step agreement.
Surely, Netanyahu did not expect a final
deal would emerge in the second round of high-level talks. Only when
brinksmanship is exercised do leaders have the political courage to cut
dramatic, sweeping diplomatic accords. Perhaps the prime minister is prepared
for such a negotiation; certainly, it is clear the US president is not.
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