INSS expert: Trump giving Iran the upper hand

Zarif offer of permanent inspections is ‘a nothing hamburger’

US President Donald Trump (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump has lost control of the nuclear standoff with Iran, Emily Landau, director of Arms Control at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
It is in that context that Landau says people should view Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s purported latest offer of “sanctions relief” from the US for “permanent monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities.”
On Monday, CNN’s Christiane Armanpour tweeted a photo of her interviewing Zarif, including highlighting his new offer as an attempt to break the ongoing stalemate between Washington and Tehran.
At first glance, Zarif’s offer could seem like breaking some serious new ground.
Until now the Islamic republic has demanded total sanctions relief before it makes any concessions.
Zarif’s statement seemed to allude to possibly extending the 2015 Iran nuclear deal’s inspections regime beyond the life of the deal which, while not dealing with all of Washington’s criticism of the deal, could be viewed as showing substantive movement by the Iranians.
Landau said that this would be a total misunderstanding of what Zarif offered.
“There is absolutely nothing new in that offer… it is a nothing hamburger,” said Landau.
She said that, regardless of Zarif's intent to present the idea as a big concession, the wording he used clearly refers to nothing more than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has been obligated by for dozens of years – long before the 2015 JCPOA.
The Iran expert explained that this means that all Zarif offered was for Tehran to comply with its preexisting obligations, but nothing new at all.
Moreover, Landau said that even if it turns out that the foreign minister later decides to go beyond the tweeted statement and offer to extend the JCPOA inspection regime, this would not be a substantive change.
Rather, she said that the main difference between the inspection regime and the older treaty regime is frequency of inspections.
This does not, however, solve the problem of scope of inspections, said Landau.
She related that a concession regarding inspections would only be meaningful if Zarif was offering to finally allow the IAEA to inspect military nuclear facilities and other new nuclear sites that it had not disclosed to date.
As long as Iran does not include those facilities, where much of their illicit nuclear program activities may still be ongoing, there is no real gain from simply extending the idea of having more frequent inspections in facilities where Iran is pretending to follow the rules.
So Landau said that, “There is no olive branch here. Iran has said they are willing to meet with Trump after saying emphatically that they wouldn’t meet with Trump in New York. All we learn is that they change their message on a daily basis… nothing can be taken as a sign of anything.”
She made two contrasting points about Zarif’s statement. The first was that the fact that “negotiation talk is in the air is proof that the maximum pressure campaign is working,” since otherwise Iran would be offering nothing. On the other hand, Trump’s hints about relaxing the campaign are starting to have negative effects.
Regarding Trump losing his edge in the confrontation with the Islamic republic, she said that, “Iran is feeling more powerful, more empowered now vis-a-vis the US after blowing up the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, and not having a firm US response beyond sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.
“Here, Trump is losing his deterrence powers vis-a-vis Iran… because he has demonstrated his eagerness to meet with Rouhani for negotiations, while the Iranians are saying ‘no,’ she added. “In the negotiation dynamics, that means Trump has blinked first. That spells weakness at the negotiation table.”
Essentially, Landau said that Zarif was trying to sound like Iran is showing flexibility in order to entice Trump into cracking and ending the maximum pressure campaign.
Landau did not say that the campaign would definitely work in getting Iran to change its behavior of promoting terror and advancing its nuclear program, especially with US elections just over a year away.
She did say, however, that the maximum pressure campaign was the only method that has a chance to succeed.