Bad deal

Criticism voiced by PM, the French, the Saudis and US Democratic, Republican lawmakers have hopefully compelled the P5+1 to reconsider their priorities in negotiating with Iran.

Geneva nuclear talks November 9, 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Christophe Bott/Pool )
Geneva nuclear talks November 9, 2013 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Christophe Bott/Pool )
Representatives from the US and other world powers meeting in Geneva have shown a willingness to sign a deal with Iran that would take the pressure off the Islamic Republic without ensuring that its nuclear program is halted at least temporarily. Why? Apparently, the P5+1 – the permanent members of the US Security Council and Germany – are concerned about the ramifications of taking too tough a stance. If they do not meet Iranian concessions with concessions of their own, the reasoning goes, the entire effort to halt Tehran’s nuclear march via peaceful, diplomatic means could be placed in serious trouble or derailed altogether. The Iranians, faced with an overly intransigent P5+1 position, might abandon talks and renew their efforts to attain nuclear weapons capability. Also, if the US and other P5+1 members such as France are perceived as overly intransigent, Japan, China, South Korea and India might back out of the sanctions regime completely.
But this line of thinking assumes that the Islamic Republic has shown any willingness to make concessions, something that is highly doubtful judging from what we know about the materializing deal.
Iran has not, apparently, agreed to significantly reduce the number of centrifuges in operation – including its newer IR-2 centrifuges – that make nuclear breakout a real possibility.
Nor does it seem that Iran has agreed to stop construction of its Arak plutonium reactor, a project with no civilian use that, if completed, would be nearly impossible to attack, since doing so could ignite the plutonium. It has not even agreed, apparently, to significantly reduce the amount of 20-percent enriched plutonium in its possession.
And transparency, perhaps the most crucial element in any agreement, is severely lacking. All promises made by Iran must be verifiable. Sites such as Parchin, near Tehran, where Iran is thought to have conducted nuclear arms experiments, must be opened to inspectors.
If a nuclear deal is reached without these elements, the Islamic Republic would be freed from some crippling sanctions and at the same time be able to continue to develop nuclear weapons.
The US and other P5+1 members should not be concerned about taking too tough a stance. The Iranians face serious domestic pressures. Their economy is a shambles with skyrocketing inflation and unemployment and low growth. Oil exports, their main source of income, have been severely curtailed. The Iranians are in desperate need of relief.
The P5+1 appears to be willing to allow Iran to extricate itself from its dire economic crisis. Instead of restricting its concessions to the release of frozen assets, the P5+1 has reportedly shown a willingness to weaken the sanction regime. The White House says these concessions are “reversible.” But there are too many businesses waiting for a green light to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic. Softening sanctions is easy. Reinstating them if Iran breaks its side of the agreement would be much harder.
Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected outright the materializing interim nuclear agreement, calling it “a very bad deal.” And Israel is not alone. France is strongly opposed to the proposal, as are the Saudis and other Sunni states on the Persian Gulf. In the US Congress there is bipartisan support not just for keeping in place existing sanctions, but for adding more.
Thankfully, the proposed nuclear deal was not signed in Geneva this weekend. We hope the criticism voiced by Netanyahu, the French, the Saudis and Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the US has compelled members of the P5+1 to reconsider their priorities in negotiating with the Iranians.
As US Secretary of State John Kerry noted recently, a bad deal would be worse than none at all. The agreement considered this weekend in Geneva was precisely such a bad deal.