This viewpoint has been derided as naïve by a number of critics of the Obama administration’s approach to Iran policy, including the Israeli government and representatives of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Such critics tend to advance the view that the Iranian regime is incapable of genuine reform in absence of regime change. This point of view surely contributes to the Gulf States’ nervousness about what is widely perceived as the Obama administration’s policy of general rapprochement, or even as appeasement.
These allegations of an overly conciliatory nuclear policy were raised once again in a question-and-answer session on Wednesday at the website IranFreedom.org. The online talk, the latest in an ongoing series, featured National Institute for Public Policy senior scholar Robert Joseph, who formerly served as the United States Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation and as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
In his talk, Joseph accused the Obama administration’s negotiators of giving the Iranian side everything that it has asked for, even as its demands have continued to rise. This, he said, has left the negotiations in a position where the only uncertainty about whether the deal will be concluded relates to whether the Iranians “can take yes for an answer,” or whether they will continue to escalate their demands until the clock runs out.
One viewer pointed to the fact that the hardline Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had recently expressed support for the nuclear talks – a fact that suggests the possibility of even those who are most resistant to dealing with the West may be able to take yes for an answer under the current conditions. Indeed, Joseph responded to the viewer question by saying that IRGC report was effectively proof that Iran has “received everything” from Western negotiators, making the emerging deal a very bad deal for the US and its allies.
According to veteran Arab journalist Abdulrahman al-Rashed in an editorial republished by Al Arabiya on Wednesday, that bad deal would have the exact opposite effect as President Obama hopes for.
“The agreement will empower Tehran’s hawks, who are currently being marketed in Iran and who are bragging that most of the nuclear program has been accomplished and that the West has finally submitted and abandoned sanctions,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, an editorial by Abdulhadi Alajmi in Qatar’s The Peninsula indicated that this is in keeping with Tehran’s more general behavior, through which it has recently attempted to claim victories and present an image of strength even when it has lost ground in places like Yemen and Syria.
Agreeing with this sense that Iran is weaker than it lets on, Rashed went on to say that the Obama administration could have avoided this outcome had it tied a nuclear deal to requirements for a change of some of Iran’s most aggressive and anti-democratic behaviors, including its pursuit of regional hegemony through various military intrusions.
Robert Joseph similarly portrayed the nuclear negotiation as a missed opportunity, outlining in his talk the sort of agreement that he believed would be a good deal and suggesting that such an agreement could actually be attainable if the US was willing to exert greater economic pressure alongside a credible threat of military force.
But Joseph left no doubt that any nuclear deal that is formed at this point will fall far short of his personal demands for zero enrichment and unrestricted access for international inspectors.
However others are less pessimistic. An article in the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday compared the Iran nuclear negotiations to nuclear negotiations with North Korea in 1994. It suggested the previous talks failed and led to North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, the current ones could still succeed.
“The fact is you can do deals with rogue states … if the deal is in the rogue state’s interests,” the Monitor quoted Joel Wit of the US-Korea Institute as saying. “But of course you need insurance, and that is where the verification comes in.”
But Robert Joseph repeatedly emphasized in his talk that the framework agreement with Iran, which was announced on April 2, establishes no adequate verification methods, and that the final agreement, due June 30, cannot be expected to improve on this. Joseph alleged that the Obama administration is to a large extent putting trust in the Iranian regime to fulfill its own obligations.
But Joseph joined many other opponents of that regime in pointing out that it has never done anything to earn such trust.