Kerry struck back against some such criticisms by saying that those who oppose the current trajectory of nuclear negotiations do not know what the prospective deal will entail. But congressmen and other critics of the diplomatic talks have based their responses to them on various hints as to what types of proposals are currently on the table and have been in the past. Last week, the Obama administration admitted that it had stopped sharing full details of the discussions with its allies in Israel, due to a series of leaks attributed to the Israeli government.
In light of such evidence, as well as a range of public comments, the media has been able to provide certain accounts of the details that each side is angling for and the details that seem likely to emerge in the next four months before the deadline for a final agreement.
Agence France-Presse put out one such report on Tuesday, although it relies heavily upon public statements from the Obama administration and largely provides a snapshot of the positions that the US is currently pushing, although it is not clear which of these are likely to be attained. What is clear, however, is that certain original US position have been given up with no obvious compensation from the Iranian side.
Thus, even the AFP report acknowledges that any agreement that might be reached at this stage will allow Iran to retain the vast majority of its 10,000 operational centrifuges – a change that many analysts report would give Iran the capability to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon in only a few months, or even just several weeks, and certainly in less than the 12 months still being promised by the Obama administration.
This is a great cause for concern for much of the US Congress, for Israel, and for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, among others. But similarly concerning are the various open questions for which the AFP and other media reports fail to point to any reasonably likely resolution. For instance, AFP points out that inspections and monitoring will be a crucial part of any final deal, but there is a dearth of information regarding how such monitoring will be carried out or whether it will be sufficient to keep pressure on the Islamic Republic.
AFP indicates that Iran has accepted daily inspections throughout the life of the interim agreement governing the ongoing negotiations. But it fails to point out that Iran has also barred the International Atomic Energy Agency from accessing certain suspicious sites including the Parchin military base. The IAEA has also repeatedly criticized Tehran for being slow to respond to inquiry requests, and for failing to provide adequate explanations of suspected military dimension of the nation’s nuclear program.
This apparent stonewalling contributes to the perception among Iran’s critics that the Obama administration’s concessions at the negotiating table have been handed out in exchange for little to nothing on the Iranian side. This in turn contributes to the perception that the administration is making excessively light demands overall and is prepared to accept a weak deal that would allow Iran to continue its progress toward a nuclear weapon, at most delaying that progress by a few years.
This suspicion surrounds some of the latest information to be released about the prospective deal, concerning a longstanding point of contention: the duration of the final agreement. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal summed up the critics’ concerns and quoted one senior US official as saying that it would be acceptable if Iran’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon came to be less than the promised twelve months after the prospective deal has been in place for ten years.
The Journal also emphasized that the currently proposed duration for that deal, while representing a compromise between the Iranian and US ideals, “appears closer to Tehran’s timeline.” This has led Republican Senator Bob Corker to criticize the prospective deal as effectively being only a short-term agreement and thus not living up to the stated goals of the negotiations.
The Tower quotes David Horovitz, the editor-in-chief of the Times of Israel as going further and saying that the latest details, including the planned duration of the deal, “are even more worrying than those that were leaked in Jerusalem” regarding the short-term limits on centrifuge stockpiles.
Horovitz has responded to the escalating danger of a bad deal by urging Isaac Herzog, the opponent of Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming Israeli parliamentary elections, to accompany the current Prime Minister to his planned speech to the US Congress on March 3, in order to show that the issue transcends party lines.
The issue of a short-duration agreement is made potentially more worrying by outstanding question about what Iran might do with the intervening time between the signing of the agreement and the cessation of restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program. Already, opponents of the regime are concerned about secretive pathways to additional nuclear enrichment and weapons development. In a press conference on Tuesday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed the existence of a secret underground facility for research and utilization of more advanced centrifuge technology.
But not all of Iran’s pushes for new development have been so secretive, and not all of its secrets in this regard have been closely kept. In 2005, now-President Hassan Rouhani boasted of using negotiations with European powers to maintain a calm environment while simultaneously moving forward with the nuclear program and developing the ability to enrich yellowcake.
On Monday, it was reported that a public event had been held in Gonabad to celebrate the theme of Iran overcoming various obstacles to its nuclear research and development. The event culminated with the staged destruction of the Israeli flag by a model missile.
And on Tuesday, Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency issued a report that could easily point to the country’s effort to collaborate with other nations to either mutually develop or technology associated with nuclear weapons or other military arsenals. The report indicates that a two-day event had been held in Tehran to discuss “founding an advanced scientific cooperation center in Iran.”
The event was reportedly attended by 28 science ministers and representatives of 58 members of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement, of which Iran is currently the chair. A statement at the conclusion of the event “highlighted all countries’ right to peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Tasnim reported.
Iran publicly insists that its own nuclear program is only aimed at such civilian purposes as power generation and medical research, but intelligence reports from Western government and Iranian dissidents have repeatedly suggested otherwise.