In the run up to November's P5+1 talks, Iran has already won the battles that count; remember, this is the bazaar. After last year's unsatisfactory interim agreement, this author wrote:
A deal that is not a capitulation requires two conditions: the parties must equally value the process; and there has to be a compatible endgame. The West invested the process with much more value than did Iran, providing the mullahs with instant leverage, but most important, there was no agreed-upon end game.
The P5+1 wanted to negotiate the terms of Iran's nuclear surrender; Iran was negotiating the conditions under which it will operate its nuclear program.
We are familiar with the rules of buying a rug in the souk. The goals are compatible -- he wants to sell, you want to buy. If you want the rug more than he wants the deal, you will overpay; if he wants the deal more than you want the rug, you win. But either way, money and rug will change hands. Alternatively, if you want to buy a rug and he wants to sell a camel, no matter how ardently you bargain there will be no deal. Unless you change your mind and take the camel.
The White House took the camel.
A speech by Wendy Sherman, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, to a P5+1 symposium in Washington, made that clear:
"The President has pledged to ensure that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.... Specifically, Iran [took a number of steps, including having] agreed not to make further advances at the Arak heavy water reactor; and opened the door to unprecedented daily access for international inspectors to the facilities at Natanz and Fordow."
Maybe. But all of the steps Iran took are reversible, IAEA inspectors were denied access to a suspected military site at Parchin, and the issue of warhead delivery systems has not been addressed. If they cheat, it is worth noting that its friend in proliferation, North Korea, appears to have miniaturized a nuclear weapon to fit on a mobile missile. Want to risk it? In Wendy Sherman's words:
"[O]ur group has proposed to Iran a number of ideas that are equitable, enforceable, and consistent with Tehran's expressed desire for a viable civilian nuclear program and that take into account that country's scientific knowhow and economic needs."
Iran's legitimate civilian needs could be met through legal purchases of enriched uranium. Iran's "expressed desires" should not be the driver of U.S. policy.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during talks in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2014. (Image source: U.S. State Department)
According to Sherman:
"Iran's Supreme Leader has repeatedly said that his government has neither the aspiration nor the intention of building a nuclear weapon; indeed, he has said that such a project would be forbidden under Islam. So our proposals are consistent with Iran's own publicly-stated position."
"Iran's leaders would very much hope that the world would conclude that the status quo -- at least on this pivotal subject -- should be acceptable, but obviously, it is not."
Iran's goal was to establish the principle of its "right" to enrich uranium. Although the relevant UN Resolution says the acceptable level of enrichment is none at all -- as does the relevant and lopsidedly approved Congressional sanctions bill -- the administration granted Iran's principle and is, in fact, negotiating a level.
"The temptation to link the nuclear question to other topics is understandable. However ... we are concentrating on one job and one job only, and that is ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon."
This single-track negotiation has allowed Iran to proceed without American objection along the path to a variety of other important Iranian ends, including:
Additional repression at home, which is crucial to the longevity of the regime. Twenty-six-year old Reyhaneh Jabbari was the 967th person to be executed since the "moderate" Hassan Rouhani became Iran's president in August 2013. She was convicted of killing the man she accused of raping her, but with no investigation of her claim. The pace of executions has been accelerating: 381 by the end of 2013, 586 so far this year, including Miss Jabbari.
The victims are often hung from cranes in public with an audience that includes children.
There is a new campaign of throwing acid in the faces of women not considered "modest" by roving gangs, and probably instigated by the Basiji paramilitary police. (Check photos on the Internet if you dare, but be warned.) Writer and professor emerita Phyllis Chesler wrote recently that the Women's Freedom Forum of Iran told her laws have been passed to protect the acid throwers, and the regime has been "intimidating the families of the victims and hospital nurses and staff. Reporters are also prevented from going to hospitals to see the victims."
There are also reports of increasing pressure on non-Muslim communities in Iran. The attacks are much like those of ISIS -- but with no condemnation from the White House.
Support for Syrian murderer Bashar Assad: With the U.S. diverting attention to ISIS and demanding that "moderate Syrian rebels" (yes, quotation marks indicate skepticism about whether "moderates" exist and if they do, that we know who they are) shut down their attacks or postpone desired attacks against the Syrian government, which has been repressing, bombing, gassing, and starving their compatriots. Instead, says the U.S., turn on Sunni "radicals," who are at least cousins of the Sunni "moderates," and kill them first -- removing one threat from Damascus.
More support for Assad -- and Iran: The U.S. air campaign is the decision of the President, who said we are there at the "invitation of the Iraqi government." That creates two problems: the Iraqi government, even the new one, is Shiite-dominated and beholden to Iran; and it makes the U.S. Air Force an agent of those two bodies against their most serious adversaries.
If Iran and the Baghdad government are so worried about ISIS (and they are), why not let THEM do something about it? Why is the U.S. trying (not very successfully) to create a Sunni coalition to fight a Sunni organization? America's tepid air support and failure to provide American or allied "boots on the ground" have already bred resentment among Iraqi Sunnis, who are considering how to create some stability with ISIS rather than fighting what they see as a losing battle. (See U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan for similar problems with the Afghan National Security Force.)
Perhaps most important: The total erasure of all international sanctions. There have been justified complaints about European countries running to do business with Iran, even during the sanctions period; Germany may be the prime offender here. But the U.S. has jumped in bed with them—first releasing billions in frozen Iranian assets and now permitting U.S. companies to sign new contracts with the Islamic Republic. A week ago, Boeing, a major U.S. defense contractor, announced that it had signed its first new contract with Iran since 1979.
The game is not over at halftime. No matter how great the score disparity, if the team behind -- in this case the P5+1 -- makes adjustments and sticks to its goals, victory is still possible. It is not likely in this instance because the Coach-in-Chief, President Obama, appears to believe the West and Iran are on the same team looking for a negotiated tie.
The Iranians, however, are looking for nuclear weapons.