It was to be expected that the negotiations between Iran and six world powers would run into problems sooner rather than later. What is surprising is how soon: barely six weeks after Iran and the so-called P5+1 – the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – reached a deal on November 24, 2013 in Geneva, aimed at freezing parts of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing some of the international economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Part of the deal was that Iran would restrict its medium-level 20% uranium enrichment. Last week, however, the negotiations ran into problems over a new model of centrifuges. These machines purify uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants or, if purified to a high level, for nuclear weapons. Iran has told the six powers it wants to press ahead with the development of more advanced centrifuges than the ones it presently has. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran is already testing several new and more efficient centrifuge models at its enrichment facilities at the Natanz research facility.
Iran seeks maximum room for maneuvering in interpreting the November agreement. Despite the disagreement over the centrifuges, Western diplomats hope the implementation of the agreement will be enacted as planned, on January 20.
In early January, the Iranian parliament approved a bill demanding that Tehran enrich uranium up to 60% levels, just shy of those needed to fuel a nuclear weapon. And already, according to reports in the Iranian press, Muhammad Nabavian, a top lranian lawmaker and cleric, has said that the newly approved uranium enrichment program would allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon "in two weeks." He left no doubt about Iran's intentions: "We are not looking for a nuclear bomb, but having a nuclear bomb is necessary to put down Israel."
Nabavian added that, since Russia and China were already lifting sanctions on Iranian banks, the November agreement had already been beneficial to Iran. "Since last summer, banks throughout the world have slammed their doors on us and we were unable to transfer even one single penny," he said. "Even if we could sell 2.7 million barrels [of oil] per day how we could transfer the money? ... Only recently, Vladimir Putin sent the Russian central bank chief to Iran in order to alleviate money transfers, China also recently released part of our blocked money, U.S. $10 billion."
Nabavian also mocked U.S. President Barack Obama. He claimed that Obama had courted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the latter's visit to the U.N. in New York last year. Obama had tried to meet Rouhani in person, Nabavian said, but, despite the private overtures, the Iranian President had refused to meet Obama.
Israel, which risks the most if the sanctions on Iran are lifted, has not even been part of the negotiations between the P5+1 and Tehran. Everything, despite the ongoing Iranian threats that they still intend to "put down Israel" with nuclear weapons, is being decided over Israel's head.
Israel, from the start, has been highly critical of the six powers' deal with Iran. America's eagerness to close the deal with the Iranians on November 24 has already given Russia and China the excuse to alleviate their sanctions on Iran, and is a victory for the Iranian leadership, who, to achieve this goal, needed to deliver exactly nothing.
In recent weeks, Iran has continued to upgrade its nuclear program and destabilize the Middle East. On December 27, Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists assassinated former Lebanese finance minister Mohamad Chatah, a fierce critic of Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, according to U.S. officials, Hezbollah members are smuggling advanced anti-ship missiles from Syria into Lebanon, ostensibly to "upgrade Hezbollah's arsenal to deter future Israeli strikes – either on Lebanon or on Iran's nuclear program."
A century ago, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt built his foreign policy on the principle of, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." The present U.S. administration seems to prefer a small, or no-stick-at-all approach, or even that of, "Speak loudly and carry a big carrot."
During a visit in Jerusalem on January 5, Secretary of State John Kerry even said that he was "happy to have Iran be helpful." The only result of the Geneva agreement so far seems to have been, however, to give Russia and China an excuse to loosen their sanctions on Tehran while Iran's provocations and enrichment activities continue undeterred.