Moderated by Institute for Democratic Strategies President Bruce McColm, the event featured comments from two former White House officials, Ambassador Robert Joseph and Professor Raymond Tanter. Both men had previously participated in individual webcasts on the same topic prior to the now-lapsed June 30 deadline for a final resolution between Iran and the P5+1.
Joseph and Tanter were joined by Alireza Jafarzadeh, the Deputy Director of the NCRI’s US Representative Office and author of the book The Iran Threat. After providing assessments and recommendations for the nuclear negotiations and broader US policy toward Iran, the three panelists answered several questions from international journalists, mostly representing the Middle East.
Joseph presented to the online audience five metrics by which he arrived at his critical assessment of the Obama administration’s policy on the nuclear issue. In his view, the emerging deal has already failed each one of those metrics. Repeatedly referring to “concessions” that the US continues to offer to Iran, Joseph indicated that the emerging deal does not deny Iran nuclear weapons capability, does not enact lasting restrictions on its nuclear weapons capability, does not extend Iran’s breakout period in a meaningful way, is not effectively verifiable, and does not provide meaningful incentives or consequences for Iranian compliance.
Tanter expressed a similar point-by-point criticism of the trajectory of recent negotiations, identifying “three pillars” of failure in the Obama administration’s strategy. Tanter criticized the president for de-coupling the nuclear issue from the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile stockpiles, for failing to maintain a credible threat of force in order to pressure Iran toward genuine compliance, and for unfreezing Iranian assets too quickly and in too high a quantity, thus contributing to a shift in the Middle Eastern power balance in favor of Iran.
Joseph also pointed to this latter threat as he argued that a forthcoming, weak nuclear agreement would accelerate Iran’s existing pursuit of influence in areas like Yemen and Syria, and would leave Iran as the “unquestioned preeminent power” in the broader Middle East. This in fact echoes, albeit with a negative tone, comments by President Obama to the effect that his policy would leave Iran as a “very successful regional power.”
Joseph, a former special envoy for nuclear nonproliferation and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, went on to accuse the Obama administration of excessive optimism regarding the prospects for moderation of a regionally successful Iranian regime. Following this line, he concluded his initial remarks by saying that a lasting solution to the issue of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon can only occur in the context of regime change. Thus, he said, support for the Iranian opposition should be a “vital tool” of broader US policy toward Iran.
The NCRI already enjoys steady support from dozens of American political and military figures, as evidenced by their presence at the organization’s annual international rally in Paris each June. Some of these supporters highlight the positive impact that the Iranian resistance can have on Western intelligence. In Tuesday’s discussion, the representative of the NCRI highlighted this by referring to some of the nuclear sites that had previously been revealed by the organization.
Jafarzadeh used the event to recap how the Iranian regime has interacted with the international community over the past twelve years regarding the inspection of such sites. Using the Kala Electric facility as an example, Jafarzadeh detailed how the regime lied about its connections to the nuclear program, denied access for international inspectors, tampered with evidenced, and finally conceding some points when confronted with contradictory evidence.
According to Jafarzadeh, this ultimately led to a fixed Iranian policy of insisting on only “managed access” to suspect sites. Consequently, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has maintained several red lines for the current nuclear negotiations including the denial of foreign access to Iranian military sites and the obstruction of interviews with Iranian nuclear scientists.
At the same time, Khamenei insists that Iran be permitted to work on advanced nuclear enrichment centrifuges, and the Iranian negotiating team has lately begun pushing for an end to embargos on transfer of arms to the Islamic Republic. This latter development was highlighted in Tuesday’s webcast to support Joseph’s assessment that Iran has managed to “squeeze out concession after concession by playing with [the extended] deadlines.”
Joseph also claimed that alone the way to enabling this outcome, “the Obama administration has violated every single rule of good negotiating practice.” Comparing the apparent failure of current diplomacy to the American triumph in nuclear negotiations with Libya, Joseph emphasized that the Libyans embraced complete transparency because US then had “a strategy that combined all the elements of statecraft.”
By contrast, Joseph said, “Iran clearly hasn’t made the strategic decision” to end its nuclear weapons program, and the forthcoming acceptance of this situation via a weak nuclear deal “may well be the death penalty for the Nonproliferation Treaty.”