These questions remain open, although both sides of the negotiations have been steadfast in insisting that an agreement has been within reach throughout much of the process. Meanwhile, the administration of US President Barack Obama, which is recognized as the leading voice within the P5+1, has been repeatedly criticized by dissenting voices in his own government and by other critics of the Iranian regime for giving up too much of the original American position in pursuit of a deal.
Those criticisms are already beginning to resurface in light of the most recent supposed compromise, which involves a proposal that would leave most of Iran’s current stockpile of uranium enrichment centrifuges in place, focusing on their configuration instead of their numbers as a means of curtailing Iran’s ability to breakout to a nuclear weapon.
But as the Associated Press points out, changes to the configuration of those centrifuges will almost certainly be easier to reverse than any actual dismantling or removal of the centrifuges themselves. Previous Western demands placed upon the Islamic Republic of Iran involved limiting the raw number of first-generation centrifuges to about 2,000. This was viewed as the maximum number that would be sufficient to keep Iran at least a year away from being able to enrich enough uranium to create the core of a nuclear bomb.
The number of centrifuges deemed allowable by Washington has risen during the negotiating process, but Tehran continues to insist upon no reductions whatsoever to its current supply of nearly 10,000 operational centrifuges. Furthermore, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has remained publicly committed to plans to expand that supply nearly 20 fold in coming years.
The Obama administration has previously been accused of giving up American demands and American leverage out of desperation for a deal and for the preservation of a personal foreign policy legacy. The Tower alleges, in response to the most recent claim of nascent compromise, that the US is essentially trading Iranian enrichment capability for perceived promises of regional stability via Iran’s involvement in volatile areas like Iraq and Syria.
Some European powers are reportedly displeased with this change in tack, with Olivier Meier of the University of Hamburg’s Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy noting that it constitutes “shifting the goalposts for a diplomatic solution.” Meanwhile, other critics of the Obama administration’s policy insist that Iran cannot be trusted to contribute to stability in the region and has in fact been making matters worse through its promotion of Shiite militias as sectarian adversaries to the Sunni extremist forces opposing the governments of Iraq and Syria.
The Tower goes on to argue that the Obama administration “views the nuclear deal currently being negotiated as only a first step toward a general détente and broader cooperation between the two countries.” This view was supported by Michael Doran in an essay at Mosaic Magazine on Monday. Doran cites the final report of the Iraq Study Group in 2006 as the inspiration for President Obama’s Middle East policy, and he notes that it specifically called for engaging with Iran and Syria in an attempt to stabilize Iraq.
Naturally, critics regard such engagement as a dangerous prospect, especially insofar as it may be leading to such US concessions as will allow the Islamic Republic to secure sanctions relief and more open global relationships without having to seriously sacrifice its nuclear ambitions. Doran himself concludes his essay by saying that the emerging consequences of current Iran policy are that “the seasoned thugs in Tehran whom the president has appointed as his strategic partners in a new world order grow stronger and bolder: ever closer to nuclear breakout capacity, ever more confident in their hegemonic objectives.”
Indeed, there are distinct signs that Tehran is neither committed to nor confident in the prospect of curtailing its enrichment and other nuclear advancements. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported that the Iranian parliament too steps on Tuesday to speed through legislation that would immediately and fully resume and expand the country’s ostensibly frozen nuclear activities if new sanctions are imposed against it.
For its part, the US Congress has delayed voting on a bill that would allow new sanctions to be triggered by the failure of a deal. At the president’s request, Democratic lawmakers agreed to wait and see if a framework deal is reached by the end of March. But the bill passed the Senate Banking Committee last week and will be ready for a vote in the event that diplomatic efforts fail.