Iran’s Circular Negotiations Leave Nuke Agreement “Around the Corner”
by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET)
June 28, 2012
A football team that goes three downs and out, possession after possession, continuously running ground plays for an entire game, would be hard-pressed to win. A coach using such a ground-bound strategy would not long remain as coach.
As yet another round of talks between top negotiators for the P5 plus 1 countries and Iran was concluded without agreement on how to end the latter's nuclear weapons program, one cannot help but wonder how much longer we are committed to playing this game with Iran using the same failing strategy.
The difference after the third and latest round of talks is it concluded, unlike the previous two, without an agreement for top negotiators to meet again at a new location. Instead, it was agreed only the nuclear technical experts would meet within two weeks-this time in Istanbul-to clarify each side's proposal. That meeting would then be followed by deputy level contacts to ascertain if another meeting between top negotiators is justified. Thus, as little as the two previous rounds accomplished, the third accomplished even less.
One can only hope President Obama has finally seen the light.
As Iran's nuclear arms program suffered setbacks due to US and Israeli cyber attacks using the Stuxnet and Flame malware, Tehran needed to buy time to further develop its capability. It did so by always circling back to false hopes a diplomatic solution might be possible. It has led the IAEA on several occasions to release erroneously encouraging statements an agreement lies just around the corner. However, as negotiations continued to go in a circle, that corner became difficult to find.
The gap between the positions held by the P5 plus 1 and Iran is so significant not even the late daredevil motorcyclist Evil Knievel could have jumped it.
While the P5 plus 1 sought guarantees Iran would stop enriching uranium at levels needed to make nuclear weapons, Tehran took the position it had an inalienable right to enrich uranium to levels of its choosing. Additionally, Tehran-obviously hurting from imposed sanctions-sought immediate relief from same, a measure upon which the US, at least for the moment, is unwilling to negotiate.
There is an interim proposal on the table for Iran to consider which would still leave it with the capability to enrich uranium in the future, only requiring it to agree to freezing enrichment for the moment. Accepting this proposal is the only way both sides can save face-Iran by not necessarily relinquishing its claimed inalienable right and P5 plus 1 by having gotten Iran to stop enrichment, at least temporarily. (This still is discomforting since, as a senior Iranian official has noted, uranium enrichment knowledge puts Tehran "only one step away from producing nuclear weapons.")
It would not be surprising if Iran went through the motions of accepting this interim proposal as doing so would, also temporarily, put the military option on hold. It would then leave both sides to negotiate terms of the freeze. That, in itself, would enable Tehran to buy additional time to continue its nuclear program as it dragged out the negotiating process aimed at defining freeze verification terms.
Iran continues to claim it only seeks a nuclear capability for peaceful purposes to include, it announced just days before the third round of talks, construction of a nuclear submarine it has already started. While construction of a nuclear powered submarine does qualify as a civilian application, Iran benefits further as submarine construction also requires uranium enrichment above the weapons grade level.
Economic sanctions are already taking an extensive toll on Iran's economy. Oil exports have dropped 40% in twelve months; its currency, 50% in ten. Already losing about US$4.5 billion per month, things will get worse for Iran on July 1 when an EU oil embargo goes into effect.
Every action Iran undertakes in the months ahead will have but one objective-to buy more time. It has absolutely no intention of permanently abandoning its uranium enrichment program. Anything it can do to feed false hopes otherwise-i.e., that an agreement is around the corner-will be done, but only to stave off military action that could delay its ultimate goal to develop a nuclear weapon.
Obama must understand he must play tough, not only with the Iranians, but the Russians too. It is, after all, the Russians who helped get Tehran to this point by providing its technological know-how. It is the Russians too who helped the Iranians identify the cyber attacks that delayed their nuclear program and then assisted them in repairing the damage done. It will be the Russians too who try to undermine any effort to take or even threaten military action against Iran.
Even if pushed to the brink of war, Iran can be depended upon to buy additional time through negotiations, possibly even signing an agreement at the last moment to abandon its program-but it never will. Under Islam, it believes it is entitled to lie to enemies to further its objectives.
It must be understood the only thing Tehran has been honest about is its representation it has an inalienable right to enrich uranium to whatever level it chooses. That is because Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes Iran is ordained to have a nuclear weapon. Believing he has been entrusted by the Prophet Muhammad with such a religious mandate, he will do nothing to deny Iran that capability.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. By that definition, our approach towards Iran in trying to get it to terminate its nuclear arms program represents insanity. The Iranians recognize that. When will we?
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.