Khamenei haggles over the price of American surrender.
By Bret Stephens Oct. 26, 2015 6:51 p.m. ET
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—better known as the Iran nuclear deal—was officially adopted Sunday, Oct. 18. That’s nine days ago. It’s already a dead letter.
Not that you would have noticed by reading the news or tuning in to State Department or White House briefings. It’s too embarrassing to an administration that has invested all of its diplomatic capital in the deal. Also, too inconvenient to the commodity investors, second-tier banks, European multinationals and everyone else who wants a piece of the Iranian market and couldn’t care less whether Tehran honors its nuclear bargain.
Yet here we are. Iran is testing the agreement, reinterpreting it, tearing it up line by line. For the U.S.—or at least our next president—the lesson should be clear: When you sign a garbage agreement, you get a garbage outcome.
Earlier this month Iran test-fired a new-generation ballistic missile, called Emad, with an estimated 1,000-mile range and a 1,600-pound payload. Its only practical military use is to deliver a nuclear warhead. The test was a bald violation of the Security Council’s Resolution 2231, adopted unanimously in July, in which “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” for at least eight years.
Then Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei weighed in on the nuclear deal by way of a public letter to President Hassan Rouhani. “The behavior and words of the U.S. government in the nuclear issue and its prolonged and boring negotiations,” he wrote, “showed that [the nuclear issue] was also another link in their chain of hostile enmity with the Islamic Republic.”
The Supreme Leader’s comments on the nuclear deal have been billed by some reporters as a cautious endorsement of the agreement. Not exactly. They are a unilateral renegotiation of the entire deal, stipulating that the U.S. and everyone else must accept his rewrite—or else.
The best analysis of Mr. Khamenei’s demands comes from Yigal Carmon and Ayelet Savyon of the Middle East Media Research Institute. Demand One: The U.S. and Europe must completely lift, rather than temporarily suspend, their economic sanctions, putting an end to any possibility that penalties could “snap back” in the event of Iran’s noncompliance. Demand Two: Sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorism and its human-rights abuses must also go, never mind the Obama administration’s insistence that it will continue to punish Iran for its behavior.
Next Mr. Khamenei changes the timetable for Iran to ship out its enriched uranium and modify its plutonium reactor in Arak until the International Atomic Energy Agency gives Iran a pass on all “past and future issues (including the so-called Possible Military Dimensions or PMD of Iran’s nuclear program).” So much for the U.N. nuclear watchdog even pretending to monitor Iran’s compliance with the deal. He also reiterates his call for a huge R&D effort so that Iran will have at least 190,000 centrifuges when the nuclear deal expires.
“The set of conditions laid out by Khamenei,” Mr. Carmon and Ms. Savyon note in their analysis, “creates a situation in which not only does the Iranian side refrain from approving the JCPOA, but, with nearly every point, creates a separate obstacle, such that executing the agreement is not possible.”
That’s right, though it doesn’t mean Mr. Khamenei intends to stop negotiating. Instead, like in some diplomatic version of Lord Beaverbrook’s indecent proposal—“Madam, we have established what you are; now we’re just haggling over the price”—Mr. Khamenei has discovered what the administration is. Now he wants to pocket the concessions he has already gained and wheedle for a bit more.
Little wonder that Iran has upped the contempt factor since the agreement was signed. A day after the missile test, Iran convicted Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. On Monday came reports that Iran may have arrested an Iranian-American businessman in Tehran. Expect similarly brutish insults in the months ahead, all to underline how little Mr. Khamenei thinks of the American president and his outstretched hand.
As for the administration, it would be nice to imagine that it is starting to sense the Ayatollah’s disdain. But it isn’t. The missile test was met by a wan effort to take “appropriate action” at the U.N., whatever that might be. Mr. Khamenei’s letter has been met with almost complete silence, as if ignoring it will make it go away.
Perhaps none of this matters. For all the promises and warnings about the Iran deal, it is nothing more than surrender dressed up as diplomacy. The correlation of forces in the Middle East has shifted in the past year, and Mr. Obama will not lift a finger to restore the balance. Mr. Khamenei knows this, and he is not about to give the U.S. a dignified surrender. Then maybe Mr. Obama knows it, too. He doesn’t seem to mind the ignominy.