At the time, Obama declared that Iran did not need its Fordo or Arak facilities or advanced centrifuge technology in order to provide nuclear power generation to the country. Yet Tehran has been permitted to retain all of these things to one degree or another under the terms of the framework agreement that was announced last Thursday.
The emerging deal explicitly allows Iran to continue advanced research and development, but puts unspecified restraints on it in order to keep the Islamic Republic to the promised on year breakout time. The deal does not require Iran to convert the Arak heavy water facility into a facility that will not yield plutonium, and it allows Iran to retain about 1,000 enrichment centrifuges at the fortified Fordo facility. Technically, Iran is barred from using those centrifuges to enrich uranium, but the methods of international verification for this provision have not been pinned down.
Each of these points has been perceived by critics of the negotiations as a concession offered to Tehran in exchange for little to nothing. And this view contributes to the conclusion voiced in an editorial at Townhall on Tuesday: that Thursday’s agreement provides president Obama with some political cover but does not actually solve any of the major concerns related to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Townhall also took the position that the deal is made even more inconsequential by the fact that it fails to address Iran’s ongoing obstruction of international inspectors’ access to suspect facilities. Many critics of the Obama administration’s approach to the negotiations have emphasized the importance of assuming that Iran will attempt to cheat, on the basis of its prior behavior. This view calls for an extremely vigorous verification process.
The Associated Press points out that the Obama administration is portraying the framework deal as establishing just such a vigorous process, but that this is extremely questionable. In theory, the Islamic Republic has finally accepted the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but in actuality this may not lead to the quick, unencumbered inspections that it is meant to. For one thing, as President Obama recently explained, the actual verification process will allow Iran to object to requests for inspector access, leading to an unspecified process of arbitration. The time involved in settling such disputes may well leave Iran with time to cover up illicit work before key sites can be inspects.
In addition, this is not the first time that Iran has paid lip service to accepting snap inspections. It did so between 2003 and 2006, implementing the Additional Protocol “provisionally and selectively,” according to the US State Department, and thus continuing to bar international inspectors from doing their work at times when it was considered practically or ideologically convenient by Tehran.
There is significant reason to believe that this obstruction will recur under the new circumstances. In fact, i24 News pointed out on Tuesday that Iran had plainly rejected the possibility of having webcam monitors set up in nuclear facilities to check on compliance remotely. In so doing, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif further alarmed opponents of the regime by declaring that Iran is capable of building a nuclear bomb if it chooses to.
He went on to repeat a familiar Iranian claim about Iran’s leadership considering nuclear weapons to be forbidden by Islam. But the sincerity of this claim has been widely disputed, in large part because of Iran’s established pattern of lying for the sake of its nuclear ambitions and other illicit activities.
This is a fact that was highlighted by The Week in a list of five reasons why observers should still be skeptical of the emerging deal even though the framework agreement seems to represent a breakthrough.
“It might be impolitic to state things so bluntly,” the article explained, “but Iran’s leadership lies. Every government lies, of course, but Iran’s leadership’s record in the area bears the stamp of a totalitarian regime’s brazen and constant distortion of reality. There is a difference between occasionally lying to protect one’s interests, and lying as a matter of routine.”
This is perhaps underscored by the contradictions that have become apparent in American and Iranian descriptions of the content of the framework agreement. According to Arutz Sheva, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said on Tuesday that the US and Iran have “each been irritated with each other in some of the things we’ve said.” For instance, Iran continues to insist that the framework deal is in line with its demands for immediate, across-the-board sanctions removal, while the US claims that it stays true to the expectation of phased sanctions relief in exchange for proof of Iranian compliance.
Sherman was gentle in her description of the discord, saying, “We understood that our narratives were likely to be somewhat different – but we pledged to try not to contradict each other.” If this is so, and if Sherman herself believes that the Obama administration has stayed true to that pledge, the actual contradictions raise further questions about Iran’s honesty and earnestness in following through on negotiations.
In addition to Iran’s history of lying, The Week points out that the emerging deal is further complicated by the fact that it is not yet concluded. That is, if contradictions regarding the framework agreement point to broader disagreements, the discussions could still break down before their final deadline on June 30.
Furthermore, The Week says that US policymakers simply do not know enough about circumstances inside the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to be able to make a reliable prediction about whether the deal will be concluded in the next several weeks or whether Iran will show any willingness to abide by that deal. For instance, there is some uncertainty about what proportion of the politically powerful Revolutionary Guards are willing to genuinely entertain relations with the West for the sake of economic improvements, and what proportion is truly committed to anti-American rhetoric above all else.
Finally, The Week says that there may be reason to distrust the nuclear deal on the basis of the danger involved in investing too much trust in its provisions on the understanding that the West likely will not be able to go back and impose new pressure on Tehran once the deal has gone into effect and international sanctions have been alleviated or lifted altogether.
For critics of the deal, the difficulty of going back to the drawing board is made more threatening by recent comments made by President Obama himself. The Times of Israel points out that in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, the president acknowledged that after the deal begins winding down about ten years following its implementation, Iran’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon may actually drop to nearly zero.
Obama expressed the view that this would be worthwhile because of the constraints imposed in the intervening ten years, and that there would be an opportunity for a future president to take further action near the end of the deal if need be. But according to Roll Call, one of Obama’s chief domestic rivals, House Speaker John Boehner, seized on this opportunity to declare that Obama knows that the emerging deal will pave Iran’s way to a nuclear weapon, and that he is pursuing it anyway for the sake of pure political gain.