The Rose Garden has become for President Obama what the Sunday talk shows are for Susan Rice—the place he goes to announce a deal—or in this case a “deal”—that unravels instantaneously.
He took to the Rose Garden yesterday tout a "framework" that he said will lead eventually, after much more talking, to a deal with Iran. In this instance, it was only a framework, not a pact, but the unraveling nevertheless took only a few hours:
Just hours after the announcement of what the United States characterized as a historic agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, the country’s leading negotiator lashed out at the Obama administration for lying about the details of a tentative framework.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the Obama administration of misleading the American people and Congress in a fact sheet it released following the culmination of negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
Zarif bragged in an earlier press conference with reporters that the United States had tentatively agreed to let it continue the enrichment of uranium, the key component in a nuclear bomb, as well as key nuclear research.
Zarif additionally said Iran would have all nuclear-related sanctions lifted once a final deal is signed and that the country would not be forced to shut down any of its currently operating nuclear installations.
Following a subsequent press conference by Secretary of State John Kerry—and release of a administration fact sheet on Iranian concessions—Zarif lashed out on Twitter over what he dubbed lies.
Of course, President Obama is likely to dismiss this from Zarif—who was widely said to have charmed Secretary of State John Kerry—as just a ruse to placate hardliners in Iran—you know, Zarif's own annoying Lindsey Grahams and John McCains. Still, Zarif was jubilant when the framework was announced, so here’s guessing overall he's pretty happy.
An editorial in the Washington Post is harsh:
The “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.
A Wall Street Journal editorial sees some good points in the outline the president revealed but remains skeptical:
The general outline of the accord includes some useful limits on Iran, if it chooses to abide by them. Tehran will be allowed to operate a little more than 5,000 of its first-generation centrifuges at its Natanz facility, and only there. It will not enrich uranium above civilian-grade levels for at least 15 years, though it will retain some of its unnecessary current stockpile.
Even better, the reactor at Arak will be retooled to render it incapable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. The underground nuclear facility at Fordo will remain open but be converted into a “nuclear, physics, technology, research center,” with no fissile material present and centrifuges under monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
All this would be somewhat reassuring if the U.S. were negotiating a nuclear deal with Holland or Costa Rica—that is, a law-abiding state with no history of cheating on nuclear agreements. But that’s not Iran.
Consider the Additional Protocol, a 1997 addendum to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that was meant to expand the IAEA’s ability to detect and monitor clandestine nuclear activities. Iran signed the Additional Protocol in December 2003, about the time Saddam Hussein was pulled from his spider hole. The signature meant nothing: By September 2005 the IAEA reported that Iran wasn’t meeting its commitments, and Iran abandoned the pretense of compliance by February 2006.
Now Iran has promised to sign the Protocol again. But as former IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen observed in a recent paper for the Iran Task Force, “contrary to what is commonly observed, the AP does not provide the IAEA with unfettered access.” Mr. Heinonen adds that the agency “needs ‘go anywhere, anytime’ access to sites, material, equipment, persons, and documents.”
The framework lacks this crucial “anywhere, anytime” provision, even as Mr. Obama calls its inspections the most intrusive ever. Instead it says the “IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities.” Does that mean inspectors have to schedule an appointment? With how much notice? The obvious way to evade inspections is to start a new and secret facility that isn’t part of the accord. This is exactly what Iran did with the operations at Fordo.
Fordo is Iran’s underground nuclear enrichment facility, which the Obama administration is claiming will now become a research facility! Abe Greenwald at Commentary has a good analysis of what the Fordo and other concessions mean for Iran. John Podhoretz, also at Commentary, explains how the framework will probably benefit President Obama domestically, preventing members of his own party from peeling off and voting for bills to require Congress to have a say in an Iran deal.
Banning the bomb has in the hands of President Obama and Secretary Kerry turned into signing a piece of paper. Of course, they are not there yet; there will be more talk.
Still, yesterday’s framework is likely to lead to an arms race in the Middle East, the last region in the world that needs more upheaval and dangerous toys.
It is also noteworthy that the U.S. has squandered much of its influence in the Middle East under President Obama, but that we are using our last smidgen of influence to bail out Iran on sanctions and bolster the mullah-run dictatorship’s bid to become the dominant player in the region.