Some critics of the talks worry that such slowdowns are essentially designed by the Iranian negotiators and that the Obama administration can be expected to respond to them by offering further concessions to Tehran, simply in order to keep the process moving. On Saturday, Iranian resistance leader Maryam Rajavi told the annual rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran that the US had “violated UN Security Council resolutions” by offering “major concessions” to the Iranian regime in the nuclear talks.
These criticisms are no doubt being exacerbated by the news that the Obama administration has withdrawn its former expectation that Iran come clean on the past military dimensions of its nuclear work before any agreement is concluded regarding restrictions on future work.
An International Atomic Energy Agency probe into those past military dimensions has been underway for as long as the negotiations have been going on, but IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has periodically indicated that Iran has been stonewalling progress on that probe as well. The IAEA has laid out 12 key questions about Iran’s former military and nuclear research and development, but has received a reasonably full accounting on only one of them.
Critics of the Iranian regime insist that a full accounting on all relevant questions is necessary in order to understand what measures the international community must take to verify that Iran has expanded upon this knowledge or cheated on the deal.
On Wednesday, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty pointed to the change in US policy, which had already been initially reported last week. RFE/RL indicated that US Secretary of State John Kerry had explained the change by saying that the US “already knows” what progress Iran has made toward a nuclear weapon. But these comments seem to rely on faith in American intelligence that is arguably contradicted by the very existence of the IAEA probe.
There is some debate about how much knowledge of the Iranian nuclear program was already known by Western intelligence agencies in 2002 before the Natanz nuclear enrichment site and the Arak heavy water plant were revealed to the world by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. Last February, the PMOI announced that it had uncovered yet another secret Iranian nuclear site in a Tehran suburb, thus raising further questions about the extent of US knowledge.
What’s more, it is absolutely clear that the Iranian regime is taking pains to keep key aspects of its work secret. This is suggested by its obstruction of the IAEA probe, but it is confirmed by explicit statements by regime officials, including the supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani who was credited with changing three and a half decades of foreign policy by bringing his country to the nuclear negotiating table.
On Wednesday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Rouhani had said, “Iran will never allow its secrets to fall into the hands of others through the Additional Protocol [to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] or any other means.” This merely reiterates the red lines that had already been established by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and various other political and military officials, who insist that international inspectors will under no circumstances be granted access to Iran’s military sites.
A report released early this year by the National Council of Resistance of Iran declared that the Iranian nuclear program and the nation’s military were inextricably linked and that they regularly shared personnel. Other critics of the regime, including P5+1 negotiators from France, have similarly concluded that barring access to Iran’s military sites is tantamount to stonewalling nuclear verification altogether.
This has contributed to some negotiators’ conclusion that the June 30 deadline for a final agreement is not reachable. But according to the AP, the threats to that deadline go far beyond the issue of military access and include major disagreements on all key points of the talks. Thus, speculation about the talks’ further overrun is rapidly turning into certainty. Consequently, most negotiators have declared that they do not believe the agreement to be threatened by a completion date of July 9.
The AP goes on to point out that any overrun beyond that date would allow the US Congress to take 60 days to review the agreement under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, instead of just 30. This may further threaten the finalization of the deal, owing to the considerably harder line on Iran policy that has been maintained by most US lawmakers from both political parties.
But whereas that harder line has been presented as merely counteracting the “major concessions” made by the Obama administration, the Iranian legislature is currently making efforts to deepen the divide between Iran and the West by formalizing Iranian demands that are overwhelmingly regarded as excessive and impractical.
Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday that Iranian members of parliament had introduced legislation insisting upon the complete, across-the-board lifting of sanctions against the Islamic Republic on day one of the nuclear agreement. This position was also reiterated by lead Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi on Wednesday, according to La Prensa.
Furthermore, the Iranian parliament’s bill also seeks to formally bar the IAEA from accessing national security sites, reading Iranian documents, or interviewing Iranian nuclear scientists. At the same time, it insists upon absolutely no restrictions upon Iran’s research and development in “peaceful nuclear knowledge and technology.”
The perception of “major concessions” by the Obama administration is certain to drive further resistance to the nuclear agreement in light of this legislation and other signs of a persistent gulf between Iranian positions and the original Western intentions behind the now-rushed negotiations.