Having missed the latest deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama chose Thursday to make his most persuasive case yet that the deal he has not yet made is a good one.
He argued that no better option exists, given how close the Iranians are already to developing a nuclear bomb. He said that even though U.S. and Iranian negotiators failed to reach a final deal, they have agreed to a “framework” with terms that will at least appear agreeable to the layman, and which will supposedly become a final deal by June 30.
Has Obama’s concession of ground to the weaker party in negotiations ultimately been rewarded with cooperation? Has his decision to let Iran have four times as many centrifuges as originally envisioned, and to allow centrifuges to be installed in Iran’s underground facility at Fordo, produced a new era of Iranian-American friendship?
Forgive our skepticism. After all, Thursday’s announcement was merely a media event designed to put the best possible face on the fact that no deal was made by the stated deadline.
And not only was there no deal, but Obama’s account of the non-deal differed substantially from that offered by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who took to Twitter within hours to dispute Obama’s characterization of the pace at which sanctions were supposed to be lifted — immediately, he insisted, not gradually as conditions are met.
Assuming for argument’s sake that the progress toward a deal is real, Obama seems to have succumbed to wishful thinking about Iran’s intentions. When he says, “Iran has met all of its obligations,” in an effort to sell the deal, Obama is simply not telling the truth — he is papering over a history of nuclear deal-breaking by the Islamic Republic’s regime.
That includes more than two decades of covert Iranian nuclear development, beginning in the 1980s. More recently, it included a series of calculated false and incomplete declarations of Iran’s nuclear progress. In 2003, after Iran finally came clean, or supposedly came clean, international inspectors kept discovering new and still-undeclared nuclear sites within Iran.
Much more recently, as Foreign Policy reported in December, Obama’s administration caught and quietly scolded Iran for breaking the framework that led to the current negotiations — shopping for components for its heavy-water reactor, which could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
Just five months ago, Iran was caught feeding uranium gas into advanced centrifuges, again apparently violating the terms of the current framework. Last April, Iran was even caught cheating on the amount of oil it was allowed to export under the relaxed sanctions of the current framework.
“This deal is not based on trust,” Obama said Thursday. “It is based on unprecedented verification. … If Iran cheats, the world will know.”
But the thing is, Iran has been cheating, over and over and over again. That’s what Tehran’s mullahs do. Lying is in the regime’s DNA. The world has known each time it has cheated in the past, and no one has lifted a finger to do anything about it — save for the Congress that imposed tough sanctions against Obama’s will during his first term. Those sanctions brought Iran to the table, and Obama seems to be failing to exploit their effect, even though he boasted about them in yesterday announcement.
Nor can any evaluation of Iran’s trustworthiness omit the years and years of Iranian provocations by way of its auxiliary paramilitary death squads. Just hours before Obama spoke, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels continued their march through Yemen, seizing control of the presidential residence in Aden and threatening to provoke a much larger Sunni-Shiite war in the Islamic world. Other Iranian-backed militias have recently been seen starting (and restarting) war in Gaza and crushing what non-Islamist resistance there once was to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Perhaps there is some secret grand plan that Congress and the public cannot judge because they do not know enough — because Obama has hidden the details of talks up to this point. But there are just too many indications that Obama is in over his head and does not understand with whom he is dealing.