The negotiations regarding the Iranian nuclear program, which have been ongoing for almost two years, turned into an unbearably long-lasting series. Starring in it are the diplomats, who announce, in official statements and in backstage leaks, "We are close to agreement, but there are still some important issues to negotiate." *
It has lasted, roughly speaking, since March. That is when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were supposed to negotiate the "frame agreement,” which they managed to do after many sleepless nights. Allegedly, only "technical details" remained for settling.
However, it turned out as the more skeptical commentators, including Konstanty Gebert predicted on the pages of Gazeta Wyborcza, that the devil is in the details, and that, in fact, there is no agreement.
The next final deadline for the series' finale was set for the end of June, but, as usual, it was not met.
One of the episodes last week starred Barack Obama as a guest, announcing that "chances for agreement are rather small," which immediately became an object of wide speculation.** Some commentators alleged that Obama was telling the truth, while others stated that Obama was trying to put the ayatollahs, who are ruling in Tehran, against the wall or warn them that he is not afraid of breaking off negotiations. Very few people, however, apart from the most committed observers, noticed Obama's appearance.
The good news is that the series, like all other soap operas, has to come to an end, and it will most likely finish this week. From what can be made out of the leaks, the most important aspect that remains unsettled regards the sanctions. The Iranians claim that they must be lifted immediately and completely, while the West, represented by Secretary Kerry, insists that lifting them must be a gradual process.
In exchange for lifting the sanctions, the Iranians are to significantly reduce — but not stop — their nuclear program. The heavy water reactor in Arak will be disabled, which provides certainty that Iran will not construct a nuclear bomb with a plutonium charge. For the next 15 years, Iran is not to enrich the uranium above the level of nuclear fuel — 3.6 percent fissile U-235; for a uranium bomb, enrichment of uranium of up to 90 percent is required. In the next 10 years, only 5,000uranium centrifuges (uranium-enrichment machines) will be in use; the remaining dozen or so will remain shut off.
In particular, all of the centrifuges in Fordow — a uranium enrichment facility built inside a big mountain to protect it from bombing — will be shut down. All of the uranium will be removed from Fordow and the armored facility will be turned into a research center.
This, at least, is how the Americans summed up the conditions of the draft agreement with Iran three months ago. If all this is realized, Kerry and Obama’s success will be undeniable.
And What If There Is No Agreement?
For many months now, the Republicans have been criticizing Obama for being too soft, for readily believing the ayatollahs and letting them manipulate him.
The Iranians have conducted longstanding negotiations regarding the matter with European countries during the past decade, which have not been effective. Their only goal was - as it appears - to further delay the matter, so the nuclear program could be continued alongside the apparent negotiations. This might also be the case now, although a condition of the current negotiations — which has been honored — was that the program had to be restricted for the duration of the talks.
Ergo, What If Obama and Kerry Have In Fact Been Made Fools Of?
Then the situation will be similar to the "reset" with Russia, which Obama approved in 2010. The Americans, then as well as now, extended their hand toward their enemies, and we know very well how that turned out. Four years later, Vladimir Putin completed the annexation of Crimea and is still stirring things up in Ukraine; NATO and Russia are somewhat unfriendly towards each other and word is spreading about a new Cold War.
Nevertheless, both reset with Russia and negotiations with Iran were not a mistake. In both cases — Moscow and Tehran — Obama offered the chance for a new start and for normal relations with the West.
Putin did not make use of this opportunity, which is a shame. Even if ayatollahs will do the same thing, it does not mean that Obama should not have given them, and himself, that chance.
Everyone would benefit from improving relations with Iran, both in the West and in Iran alike. Everyone loses from the lack of agreement. Iran will remain isolated, its economy will still be smothered by sanctions and the specter of an Iranian nuclear bomb will remain a threat in the West. Getting a chance to avoid this scenario is worth allowing oneself to get deceived.
*Editor’s note: Iran and a group of six countries led by the United States reached an agreement July 14, 2015 to limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than 10 years in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions. This article was written prior to that agreement.
**Editor’s note: This quotation, although accurately translated, could not be independently verified.