The Iran Nuclear Deal and Why Negotiations Will Fail

by Dec 3, 2013Foreign Policy0 comments

US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses media in Geneva, Switzerland at the conclusion of the P5+1 Talks on Iran's Nuclear Program (Eric Bridiers/US Mission Geneva/Flickr)

There was a great deal of buzz about the initial agreement between the U.S. and its Western allies and Iran, with the media calling it "historic", "a breakthrough" and a "game-changer". The media is also characterizing the Obama administration's role as ushering in a new era of U.S. diplomacy. But the U.S. is not engaged in diplomacy, and the Iran nuclear deal is not a serious step towards rapprochement, as far as the U.S. is concerned, which is why the continuing talks will ultimately fail to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

There was a great deal of buzz about the initial agreement between the U.S. and its Western allies and Iran, with the media calling it “historic”, “a breakthrough” and a “game-changer”. The media is also characterizing the Obama administration’s role as ushering in a new era of U.S. diplomacy. But the U.S. is not engaged in diplomacy, and the Iran nuclear deal is not a serious step towards rapprochement, as far as the U.S. is concerned, which is why the continuing talks will ultimately fail to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

By definition, what the U.S. is doing is not diplomacy. Threatening to bomb a country if they don’t obey orders from Washington is not diplomacy. Collectively punishing the civilian population of a country to punish its people for this crime of disobedience from their government is not diplomacy. Threatening to increase this collective punishment with additional sanctions if that country’s government doesn’t bow to the U.S.’s demands is not diplomacy.

Iran is a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). Under the terms of this treaty, Iran has an “inalienable right” to research and development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, which includes the right to uranium enrichment. The U.S. is demanding that Iran surrender that right. The U.S. framework for negotiations is premised on the idea that Iran has no such right under the NPT, that for Iran to enrich any uranium is merely a privilege granted to it by the Lords of the Universe sitting on their thrones in Washington, D.C.

Thus, the U.S. is demanding that Iran cease all enrichment to 20% while saying it might “allow” Iran to enrich to 3.5%. To produce a nuclear weapon, Iran would need to enrich to weapons-grade, which is about 90% enriched uranium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international nuclear watchdog group, is actively monitoring Iran’s nuclear program and has continued to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material to any military aspect of their program (meaning that Iran has not enriched uranium to weapons-grade).

Iran, however, insists on its rights under the NPT. Hence the U.S. policy of collectively punishing the civilian population of the country and the threats to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. The U.S. cannot have countries disobeying its orders, as this harms its credibility.

The U.S.’s explanation of the recent nuclear deal, which is only an initial and temporary agreement, is quite candid about its goals. The sanctions relief it provides is modest, to say the least. As the White House put it,

This relief is structured so that the overwhelming majority of the sanctions regime, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions architecture, remains in place. The P5+1 will continue to enforce these sanctions vigorously. If Iran fails to meet its commitments, we will revoke the limited relief and impose additional sanctions on Iran….

In total, the approximately $7 billion in relief is a fraction of the costs that Iran will continue to incur during this first phase under the sanctions that will remain in place. The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings are inaccessible or restricted by sanctions.

In the next six months, Iran’s crude oil sales cannot increase. Oil sanctions alone will result in approximately $30 billion in lost revenues to Iran – or roughly $5 billion per month – compared to what Iran earned in a six month period in 2011, before these sanctions took effect. While Iran will be allowed access to $4.2 billion of its oil sales, nearly $15 billion of its revenues during this period will go into restricted overseas accounts. In summary, we expect the balance of Iran’s money in restricted accounts overseas will actually increase, not decrease, under the terms of this deal.

The White House fact sheet on the deal further explains,

Over the next six months, we will determine whether there is a solution that gives us sufficient confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. If Iran cannot address our concerns, we are prepared to increase sanctions and pressure.

What that means is that Iran is being given this opportunity to bow down to the U.S. and surrender its rights under the NPT. If it does so, the U.S. will consider easing its punishment of the civilian population. If it doesn’t, the punishment will become even more severe. The White House goes on to emphasize explicitly that building support for this escalation of the policy of collectively punishing the civilian population of Iran is the U.S.’s purpose with the deal:

Furthermore, without this phased approach, the international sanctions coalition would begin to fray because Iran would make the case to the world that it was serious about a diplomatic solution and we were not. We would be unable to bring partners along to do the crucial work of enforcing our sanctions.

That is to say, the reason the U.S. agreed to this deal with Iran is so that it can feign to go through the motions of engaging in “diplomacy” in order. This is a longstanding purpose for the Obama administration’s so-called “diplomacy” with Iran. As I wrote in April 2009,

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday and outlined the Obama administration’s policy goals on Iran, arguing that engaging in talks would serve the purpose of getting more members of the international community on board with implementing tougher sanctions against Iran….

Clinton said the Obama administration is willing to engage Iran  along with what is known as the P5+1, a group of nations consisting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. She indicated that a “successful engagement” would mean that “our partners around the world” would recognize “that they must work with us and support our efforts, including tougher sanctions.”

By participating in the P5+1 talks, she explained, the U.S. would gain “more leverage with other nations” and increase “even further our ability to ask more from other nations.”

What the administration would ask, she made clear, is that if Iran rejects U.S. “offers” or the talks prove “inconclusive or unsuccessful”, then the administration would expect support to implement “crippling sanctions” against the country.

But there’s another twist. Iran is playing the game shrewdly. Its acceptance of the deal includes its agreement to voluntarily and temporarily cease enrichment to 20%, among other things. And after the White House put out its statement about the deal, Iran was naturally none too pleased and released the actual text of the agreement, which states:

Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons…. This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein.

In addition to reiterating Iran’s rights under the NPT, it explicitly describes the confidence-building measures Iran agreed to take as “voluntary”. This could possibly throw a wrench in the gears of the Obama administration’s endgame for the deal of gaining support for even more “crippling” sanctions.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

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