Netanyahu declared in his speech that the current prospective deal on that issue fails to significantly constrain Iran’s nuclear enrichment and development, and all but guarantees that the Islamic Republic will have a nuclear weapon at some point in the future. President Obama responded by saying that these assertions are “nothing new” coming from the Israeli prime minister.
But Hot Air points out that many commentators, including the editorial board at the generally pro-Obama Washington Post has criticized the president’s response by saying that he has not paired his dismissal of Netanyahu with actual answers to the concerns raised by his speech. Noting that Netanyahu called attention to two major US concessions – the length of the agreement and the amount of nuclear infrastructure Iran is permitted to keep – the Post wrote, “Mr. Netanyahu’s arguments deserve a serious response from the Obama administration — one it has yet to provide.”
Hot Air also referred to an editorial by former Obama advisor Dennis Ross, who has contradicted the president’s claim that the Netanyahu speech had failed to offer any viable alternatives to the nuclear deal currently taking shape. Ross, Netanyahu, and others have argued that stronger sanctions could force Tehran to accept an agreement that is more in line with Western interests. The Obama administration has been criticized for giving away sanctions relief during the course of negotiations, and thereby giving away US leverage in return for little to no concession from Tehran.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry was quoted by Reuters as saying that the US cannot hope to achieve a deal by simply insisting upon Iran’s “capitulation” to Western demands. But the criticisms highlighted by Netanyahu reflect the fact that Iran’s most committed opponents fear that negotiations are leading toward the exact opposite outcome: the capitulation of US negotiators to all or nearly all Iranian demands.
The existence of this possibility may change the way one interprets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s words when he says, as he did again on Wednesday in an interview with NBC News, that the US and Iran are “very close” to a deal in light of the latest round of bilateral talks between Kerry and Zarif.
Earlier this week, Zarif reiterated that the Islamic Republic would not accept the US’s proposal for a minimum ten year duration for the nuclear deal that must be finalized by its June 30 deadline. Insistence on only a short duration for the agreement is one of several red lines that have been outlined by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and have not been challenged by Zarif or by President Hassan Rouhani.
Khamenei has also insisted upon retention of all of Iran’s current nuclear enrichment capability, and US proposals have crept closer to this position over the course of negotiations, adding to critics’ anxiety about the issue. The latest proposals reportedly allow Tehran to retain as many as 6,500 of its 10,000 operational enrichment centrifuges.
However, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that some officials close to the negotiations were claiming that the talks were edging closer to Iran’s acceptance of the minimum one-year nuclear breakout period long insisted upon by the US and its allies. On the other hand, no public statements from the Iranian side seem to confirm this, and President Obama’s most recent assessment still described the talks as having only about a 50 percent chance of reaching a final agreement.
What’s more, that prospective agreement is presumably focused on a debatable understanding of what constitutes a one-year breakout period. Estimates vary widely as to how quickly Iran would be able to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon with its existing infrastructure. By relying on higher estimates, Israel and opponents of the Iranian regime have been able to plausibly maintain that that infrastructure must be seriously scaled back.
But the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that John Kerry had endorsed a much more optimistic view of Iran’s current capabilities, placing it as much as six years away from having a deliverable nuclear weapon. But experts reject this assessment, with David Albright of the Institute for Science and Security telling reporters, “I think Kerry is going to extreme estimates to make a political point, not an accurate technical one.”
The AP also points out that while negotiators’ attention is currently focused on nuclear enrichment, the development and manufacture of delivery systems are also parts of the overall equation describing Iran’s distance away from a nuclear weapon. And given that narrow focus, no discussions are currently taking place regarding a moratorium on Iran’s missile program, which is “inherently capable of delivering [weapons of mass destruction],” according to a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
This also is something that the Obama administration’s critics would certainly like to see addressed. And it increasingly appears as though some of the administration’s allies would also like to see a more substantive response to criticisms than has been given so far in the wake of Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday.