Negotiations with Iran aimed at convincing the Iranians to halt their nuclear program began in 2003. Hassan Rouhani, the man who headed talks with Britain, France and Germany until 2005, told a meeting of Islamic clerics and academics that Iran played for time and tried to dupe the West after its secret nuclear program was uncovered by the Iranian opposition in 2002. He revealed that while talks were taking place in Tehran, Iran completed the installation of equipment for the conversion of yellowcake at its Isfahan plant.
At the U.S. State Department, memories are short so it’s not surprising that the Iranians have suckered our diplomats again by drawing out the negotiations in Vienna. This time, however, the Iranians have advanced their nuclear program with impunity right in front of their noses.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has raised the alarm over the Iranian delaying tactics. “We are in a race against time,” he said. Since August, “Iran increased its 60% enriched uranium from 10 kilograms to 50 kilograms. It continues to bury its [nuclear] means in underground hiding places and installed another [centrifuge] cascade in Fordow.”
One of former President Barack Obama’s many negotiating blunders was to allow Iran to retain centrifuges to enrich uranium. The new deal purportedly will repeat this mistake.
In March, the Institute for Science and International Security reported that Iran has enough enriched uranium to make four nuclear weapons and that “breakout timelines have become dangerously short.” ISIS also reiterated what became obvious under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is unable to monitor Iran’s known nuclear activities or detect covert ones.
Western intelligence and the IAEA failed to detect the Iranian nuclear program at the beginning and then saw it as diplomatically convenient to lie about Iran’s non-compliance with Obama’s nuclear deal and the advancement of its nuclear program. Now, President Joe Biden’s campaign promise of negotiating a longer and stronger deal is just one more puff of smoke as Obama retread Robert Malley seems prepared to give away the store again, prompting members of his staff to abandon the Titanic negotiations to avoid their captain sinking their reputations.
As Malley offered more concessions, Iran made clear it will not abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for an end to sanctions. Their position has hardened and the Iranians are demanding guarantees that no president will ever pull out of the deal again or impose new sanctions.
Nevertheless, the British rolled over and handed Iran $530 million in ransom to secure one hostage’s release, thereby endangering more Brits as well as Americans and any other Westerner who goes to Iran who may now be accused of espionage to extort their government. Now the Iranians also have half a billion dollars to devote to mayhem.
The only good news regarding the negotiations was the administration’s rejection of Iran’s demand that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be removed from the U.S. State Department’s terrorist list. If we are lucky, that will doom the negotiations.
I supported former President Donald Trump leaving the agreement in May 2018 and his “maximum pressure” campaign, but ultimately, it failed as his term ended with Iran closer to a bomb than when it started. The campaign barely lasted two years—not enough time to cripple Iran—and it was undermined by Obama’s partners: China and Russia signed huge deals to provide a lifeline to the mullahs, and the Europeans did their best to circumvent U.S. sanctions for pounds and euros.
Last year, Biden eased sanctions on Iran’s energy sector in return for no concessions. Even more infuriating is Biden’s decision to exempt the Russians from sanctions placed on Iran, allowing them to continue to build nuclear facilities and earn billions to keep Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine going in Ukraine while telling everyone that depriving Russia of revenue is crucial to weakening him.
Biden has so little confidence in his deal that he wants to bypass the required congressional review and follow his mentor’s example of refusing to submit it to the Senate as a treaty because it would likely be rejected.
The Vienna talks take place in the context of America’s declining influence in the Middle East as reflected by the cold shoulder the Gulf states are giving the president. While the withdrawal from Afghanistan was the most dramatic indication of American weakness, it wasn’t the only one. So far this year, Iranian-back forces have launched at least three attacks on American targets, most recently on April 7, when four U.S. service members were injured when their base in northeast Syria came under rocket fire.
The U.S. response? Crickets.
Since our diplomats in the Middle East seem to live in perpetual La-La Land, they typically ignore what the players in the region say when it doesn’t fit their agendas. Has anyone in the Biden administration listened, for example, to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who said on April 9: “Our message from Tehran to Vienna is that we will not back off from the Iranian people’s nuclear rights … not even one iota.”
You might think that would put an end to the fantasy of stopping Iran’s nuclear program diplomatically, but the State Department pays no more attention to what the Iranians say than they do when the Palestinians say their goal is a state from the river to the sea.
I read an article arguing that returning to the JCPOA was imperative to prevent Iran from having the same ability to use nuclear extortion in the Middle East as Putin is doing to keep NATO at bay in the war with Ukraine. Not surprisingly, it was written by a former diplomat in the Obama administration who, like his colleagues, will never admit how their display of weakness emboldened Iran and allowed it to stay on the path of acquiring the capacity for nuclear blackmail.
Iranians are not as stupid as Americans apparently think. The mullahs understand that their regime’s survival, like that of Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, is best guaranteed by possessing nuclear weapons. It’s folly to believe they will give up their security blankets.
Unlike the Russians, Iranian leaders do not believe in Mutually Assured Destruction. For them, a nuclear war is a win-win. If they destroy Israel, they are victorious, and even if Israel strikes back, they will become martyrs and enjoy the virgins waiting for them in Paradise.
Moreover, Shi’ites believe the Twelfth Imam, who disappeared in 874, will return in an apocalyptic battle in which the forces of righteousness will defeat the forces of evil and bring about a new era in which Shi’a Islam becomes the dominant religion throughout the world. Historian Bernard Lewis noted this distinguishes Iran from other governments with nuclear weapons. He quotes Ayatollah Khomeini:
I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers [the infidel powers] wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against the whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all of them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom, which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another’s hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours.
Unlike U.S. diplomats, who seem incapable of learning from their mistakes, the Iranians have discovered a few things in their negotiations with the West. First, it is easy to hide their nuclear project from the United States and the hapless IAEA. Second, it will suffer no consequences for its defiance. Third, as masters of the bazaar, they can out-negotiate any president. Fourth, and most importantly, the United States simply does not have the will to prevent them from acquiring a bomb.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”