The Spin Zone: Don't Buy Obama's Hype on Iran

Washington may not have gotten the better end of the bargain...

President Obama got his wish: he can point to an agreement with Iran that, he claims, is the first step toward normalization of the two countries' relations. He clearly believes that by engaging Tehran, he can both prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and transform it into a force for stability in the Middle East.

The trouble is that no other state in the region, with the exception of that portion of Syria still under the control of Bashar al-Assad, and the Sh'ia-dominated government in Baghdad, has any confidence that Obama is correct on either count.

The so-called framework agreement, which actually is far more detailed than most observers expected, still has to win Ayatollah Khamenei's formal approval. Moreover, the American interpretation of that agreement may not be the same as Iran's, and most likely will differ in critical details. The overall tone of the agreement, as presented by the White House, is one that implies Iranian capitulation on almost every major issue. For example, Iran seemingly caved on the question of new research and development, as well as on the matter of shipping enriched material out of the country. Yet only a few days ago, these were major sticking points for the Iranian negotiators, and no doubt remain as such for the more hardline elements in Tehran. The Iranians also wanted the immediate removal of all sanctions, yet the agreement does not address any sanctions other than those related to Tehran's nuclear activities. Did Khamenei actually agree to such arrangements? It is hard to tell.

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Moreover, the White House asserts that the agreement posits that all previous Security Council resolutions regarding enrichment, Arak, Fordow and transparency would be lifted if Iran complies with its provisions, but then the Security Council would pass a new resolution restricting the transfer to Iran of "sensitive technologies and activities." But what are those activities? Will Iran accede to a Western definition of what those technologies and activities might be? And will Russia and China in particular actually vote for a new Security Council resolution of any kind?

The White House lists a number of restrictions on Iran that will not be lifted for fifteen or twenty years or even twenty-five years. But a critical provision relating to enrichment and enrichment research and development—the key to preventing a breakout of less than a year, according to the White House—will remain in force for only ten years. And then what? Ten years is the blink of an eye in the Middle East, or for that matter, anywhere else. And Iran could easily find ways to stall inspections for a year if it sought a nuclear "breakout," while getting the P5+1 to renew sanctions may take much longer and might never come to pass.

The agreement is silent on the question of Iranian support for terrorist activities and for organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, other than to specify that sanctions relating to these activities will remain in place. Yet because the agreement holds out the promise of Iran's reintegration into the international economy, additional resources will become available to Tehran that may well be directed toward additional terrorist activities, despite the retention of sanctions for terrorism, human rights and ballistic-missile development. After all, money is fungible.

Moreover, there is no way of knowing whether the Obama administration has made any secret undertakings to Tehran in order to win Khamenei's approval of the agreement. As Michael Pillsbury has demonstrated in detail in his recent book, The Hundred-Year Marathon, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger made a number of secret arrangements with Beijing, particularly in the field of military cooperation, to ensure that the "Opening to China" would indeed remain open. Have Obama and Kerry pursued a similar path?

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Perhaps, therefore, the administration's seemingly triumphant press release notwithstanding, the United States and the other P5+1 powers did not get the better end of the deal. The celebrations in Iran were hardly an indicator of a diplomatic defeat. And they certainly were not matched by similar revelry elsewhere.

Indeed, it appears that both America's Sunni allies and Israel have sadly concluded that President Obama is determined to restructure the Middle East by offshoring American responsibility for regional stability to Iran. And if the price of doing so is downgrading America's relations with them, so be it. It is difficult to offer any other explanation for Obama's over-the-top reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu's return to the premiership, however inappropriate and misguided the Israelis’ behavior both during his recent visit to Washington and during the election campaign may have been.

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