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Major Gaps between P5+1 and Iran on Framework Agreement

This Passover Easter weekend, the media was abuzz in speculative commentary on President Obama’s announcement in the Rose Garden on Thursday April 2nd of the P5+1 Framework for a nuclear deal with Iran. Problem is no one really knows what is involved in drafting let alone concluding a definitive technical agreement between the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran by June 30, 2015, 90 days from now. President Obama extolled the virtues of the deal saying:

Good afternoon, everybody. Today, The United States, together with Allies and Partners, have reached a historic understanding with Iran, which if fully implemented, would  prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon, As President and Commander in Chief, I have no great responsibility than the security of the American people. I’m convinced that if this framework leads to a final a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world, safer. This has been a long time coming. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been advancing its nuclear program for decades.

Sound familiar?  It should.  Read the opening stanza of former President Bill Clinton on October 18, 1994, when he announced a previous nuclear framework agreement that failed to stop North Korea from eventually creating a stockpile of nuclear weapons and nuclear tipped missiles:

Good afternoon. I am pleased that the United States and North Korea yesterday reached agreement on the text of a framework document on North Korea’s nuclear program. This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula.

This agreement is good for the United States, good for our allies, and good for the safety of the entire world. It reduces the danger of the threat of nuclear spreading in the region. It’s a crucial step toward drawing North Korea into the global community.

In the words of baseball great Yogi Berra, “its déjà vu all over again.”

Today on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd interviewed Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said:

“I’m not trying to kill any deal. I’m trying to kill a bad deal…The current plan “leaves the preeminent terrorist state of our time with a vast nuclear infrastructure.” It would spark an arms race among the Sunni states, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” the Israeli leader warned. “And the Middle East crisscrossed with nuclear tripwires is a nightmare for the world. I think this deal is a dream deal for Iran and it’s a nightmare deal for the world.”

Netanyahu stressed that when it comes to Iran’s nuclear capabilities, he prefers a “good” diplomatic solution to a military one.

He outlined such a solution as “one that rolls back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and one that ties the final lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program with a change of Iran’s behavior” and insists that Iran stops “calling for and working for the annihilation of Israel.” He also called for further sanctions on Iran as a way to get the country to take a deal that contains no concessions.

Watch the NBC “Meet the Press” segment with Israel PM Netanyahu:

Sen_ Chris Murphy

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)

Connecticut Democratic  Senator Chris Murphy, member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee  who followed Netanyahu on Meet the Press  found the agreement announced by the President, “remarkable. “ He remarked that  “sanctioning Iran into submission is not what the partners signed up for. When the question of changing Iran’s behavior on support for global terrorism and violations of human rights came up, Murphy basically followed the Administration line of let’s get the nuclear agreement done first. The Washington Post reported  Murphy saying:

It’s true that this deal doesn’t turn Iran from a bad guy into a good guy”. “But it’s a little bit of rewriting of history to suggest these negotiations were about all of the other nefarious activities of Iran in the region. These negotiations were about ending their nuclear program, such that we can start to lift up the moderate elements … [and] talk about all these other issues.

You take this issue [the nuclear program] off the table and you empower people like Rouhani and Zarif, who may see a different path for Iran — less as an irritant, more as a member of the global community.  “And you may see a pathway to solving some of these other problems (ballistic missiles, support for terrorism and human rights violations) and you can do it potentially without new rounds of traditional sanctions.

Ehud Yaari

Ehud Ya’ari Israeli Middle East analyst and Channel 2 TV Commentator.

More emerged about the differences in the announcement about the framework parameters between the State Department Fact Sheet and Farsi statement of Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Noted Israel Middle East analyst, Ehud Ya’ari, a Washington, DC Institute for Near East Policy Fellow and Israel TV Channel 2 commentator, identified six major gaps The Times of Israel reported:

  1. Sanctions: Ya’ari said the U.S. has made clear that economic sanctions will be lifted in phases, whereas the Iranian fact sheet provides for the immediate lifting of all sanctions as soon as a final agreement is signed, which is set for June 30. (In fact, the US parameters state that sanctions will be suspended only after Iran has fulfilled all its obligations: “US and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps.” By contrast, the Iranian fact sheet states: “all of the sanctions will be immediately removed after reaching a comprehensive agreement.”)
  2. Enrichment: The American parameters provide for restrictions on enrichment for 15 years, while the Iranian fact sheet speaks of 10 years.
  3. Development of advanced centrifuges at Fordo: The US says the framework rules out such development, said Ya’ari, while the Iranians say they are free to continue this work.
  4. Inspections: The US says that Iran has agreed to surprise inspections, while the Iranians say that such consent is only temporary.
  5. Stockpile of already enriched uranium: Contrary to the US account, Iran is making clear that its stockpile of already enriched uranium — “enough for seven bombs” if sufficiently enriched, Ya’ari said — will not be shipped out of the country, although it may be converted.
  6. PMD: The issue of the Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian program, central to the effort to thwart Iran, has not been resolved, Ya’ari said.

The U.S. parameters make two references to PMD. They state, first: “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.”

They subsequently add: “All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordo, Arak, PMD, and transparency).” The Iranian fact sheet does not address PMD.

The differences between the sides became apparent almost as soon as the framework agreement was presented in Lausanne on Thursday night. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif issued a series of tweets late Thursday, for instance, that protested the U.S. State Department’s assertion that the nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers would only see sanctions on the Islamic Republic removed “in phases.”

If this weekend is an example, the controversy about the framework “parameters” await the details from the final agreement targeted for June 30th. Problem is those negotiations may extend well beyond the current deadline, perhaps may spark further negotiations and may be incapable of resolution unless the Administration caves into all of Iran’s demands. In the meantime Swiss and French trade delegations are in Tehran discussing possible deals, the Germans have already held theirs, and, of course, Russia and China, have already conducted business with the Islamic Republic. Despite Turkey’s Erdogan expressing pique at Iran’s hegemony in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, he will soon hold trade talks again in Tehran on more gas deals.

Thursday’s announcement sent the Tehran Stock Exchange skyrocketing Friday. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif are smirking over their victory contemplating keeping all of its nuclear, missile and military applications under wraps. Besides they also have four bargaining chips; three imprisoned Americans and a fourth missing for eight years.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of the P5+1 plus Iran and EU Foreign Relations Commissioner in Lausanne, Switzerland 4-2-15.

Obama Threatens to Veto the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act

Like many Americans and Israelis I watched expectantly President Obama’s State of the Union Address (SOTUS)  before a joint session of Congress crammed into the House Chamber. I was looking for a reaction from the Congressional audience on the issue of the P5+1 agreement implemented on January 20th. Iran’s President Rouhani had basically told  the P5+1  in a CNN  interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the Islamic regime was not going to dismantle their nuclear program. Instead they were going to plough ahead with research and development on advanced centrifuges and would not swap the Arak heavy water plant that would produce plutonium for a bomb.

In  light of these jarring comments made in Davos, Switzerland  by President Rouhani  at the World Economic  Forum, you would have prudently thought that the President would have changed his mind about  vetoing  the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA), S. 1881. Obama made it clear that he was proceeding with the P5+1 deal as a diplomatic way of  avoiding  military action to disable the Islamic Regime’s  nuclear weapons capability.  A capability that according to Israeli PM Netanyahu  speaking at the Annual Conference of the Institute for National Security studies at Tel Aviv University  (INSS) was  “six weeks away from achievement when the P5+1 deal was signed” on November 24, 2013 in Geneva.

President Obama fired a bow shot directed at NWFIA sponsors Sens. Kirk and Menendez, and 57 other co-sponsors of S. 1881, as well as the Resolution introduced in by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor  (R-VA)  and Minority Leader Steny  Hoyer (D-Md.) supporting its passage.

Obama said:

Let me be clear if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.

For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.

If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.  But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.

If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

Watch this C-SPAN video clip of the nuclear Iran segment of his SOTUS:

The immediate reaction was clearly stony silence from the Republican members of both chambers in the audience.

According to a  Jerusalem Postarticle on the President’s veto threat, NWFIA co-sponsor Sen. Kirk said:

“The American people – Democrats and Republicans alike – overwhelmingly want Iran held accountable during any negotiations. While the president promises to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, the Iranians have already vetoed any dismantlement of their nuclear infrastructure,” Kirk added, calling his bill an “insurance policy” for Congress.

The Hill  Global Affairs blog reported the dissembling  the morning after  the President’s SOTUS remarks on a nuclear Iran by some Democratic co-sponsors of NWFIA in the wake of the President’s public veto threat.  Note these Senators’ comments:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on MSNBC Tuesday night that he didn’t endorse the bill so that it could be voted on during negotiations with Iran. “Give peace a chance,” he said.

“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we were negotiating,” Manchin said. “I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer, if he needed it and showed them how determined we were to do it and use it, if we had to.”

[…]

“Now is not the time for a vote on the Iran sanctions bill,” Coons said Wednesday at a Politico event, according to The Huffington Post.

The senator clarified that he still supports the bill but warned advancing it now could damage ongoing negotiations toward a final agreement with Iran.

[…]

“I’m not frustrated,” Menendez told The Huffington Post on Tuesday after Obama’s address. “The president has every right to do what he wants.”

The Hill Global Affairs blog noted the Senate reaction  to NWFIA :

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the fourth-highest ranking Democrat, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have said they are against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also suggested he’s leaning toward not allowing a vote on it.

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the Senate should move the sanctions bill forward to the floor, predicting it would have a veto-proof majority.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Monday that lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering a nonbinding resolution that expresses concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

Backing what Sen. Kirk said in his response to the President was further evidence from former  UN nuclear weapons inspector David Albright at the Washington, DC Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).  Both he and the sanctions analysis team from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies held a well attended briefing for Capitol Hill Staffers on Monday, January 27th.  Albright was quoted in the Los Angeles Times citing an ISIS  report on the technical aspects of the accord implemented on January 20th that allows Iran to continue research over the next six months on several types of advanced centrifuges already at Natanz:

[The accord]  is not expected to seriously affect Iran’s centrifuge research and development program. Albright said he hopes to persuade the six powers to push for much stricter limits on centrifuge research and development when they negotiate the final agreement. The issue has to be addressed much more aggressively.

Cliff May of FDD, co-sponsor of the Capitol Hill event with Albright  of  ISIS,  observed in an NRO Corner article:

If Iran’s rulers faithfully comply with every commitment they have so far made, at the end of this six-month period, they will be about three months — instead of two months — away from breakout capacity.

Yesterday, at the annual conference of the  Institute for National Security studies (INSS)  at Tel Aviv University, there was a dialog between former CIA Director Gen. David Petreaus and Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin,  former  IDF military intelligence chief.  The contrast between their positions on the Iran nuclear threat was most telling:

General (ret.) David Petraeus: The United States is war weary and suffers from a “Vietnam syndrome.” However, it still has major strategic capabilities, and President Obama will not hesitate to use force against Iran, if necessary.

Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin: What keeps me awake at night is the Iranian issue. The Iranian nuclear program aspires to attain a nuclear capability. The only viable leverage – sanctions and a credible military threat – are weakening, and this is most worrisome. Also troubling: the status quo on the Palestinian issue is not favorable, and the relations with the United States are not on the same level as before – these must be restored.

If you are a gambler, which of the two former military leaders, would you bet on to make a decision in the sovereign national interests of Israel regarding a nuclear Iran?  I know who I would.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.