By Mortimer Zuckerman
Anyone who looks at the nuclear deal and sees success is living in a world of rainbows and unicorns.
I’m always chasing rainbows, watching clouds drifting by / My schemes are just like all my dreams, ending in the sky.
The vaudeville song by Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy, popularized by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, is all too appropriate to this moment, as we consider the implications of a nuclear Iran and the prospect of mushroom clouds over the Middle East.
President Obama has been chasing a rainbow in his negotiations with Iran. He has forsaken decades of pledges to the civilized world from presidents of both parties. He has misled the American people in repeatedly affirming that the U.S. would never allow revolutionary Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, which would guarantee a new arms race. In fact, one has already started. Credible reports suggest Pakistan is ready to ship an atomic package to Saudi Arabia, the Sunni nation that stands opposed to Shiite Iran’s subversion throughout the region.
But Tehran is working across religious lines as well. Though Hamas is Sunni, Iran has sent millions of dollars to the terror group that controls Gaza to rebuild the tunnel network that the Israeli Defense Force destroyed last summer.
How far Mr. Obama is prepared to chase the negotiation dream is illustrated by the recent candor of his energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who has been party to the negotiations. In 2013 the president answered questions about Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons with these words: “Our assessment continues to be a year or more away, and in fact, actually our estimate is probably more conservative than the estimates of Israeli intelligence services.”
Yet on Monday Mr. Moniz told reporters at Bloomberg a different story: “They are right now spinning. I mean enriching with 9,400 centrifuges out of their roughly 19,000,” he said. “It’s very little time to go forward. That’s two to three months.” How long has the administration held this view? “Oh, quite some time,” Mr. Moniz replied. The Bloomberg report suggests “several years.”
This stunningly casual remark was based on information apparently declassified on April 1. What is Mr. Obama up to? Why was he reassuring in 2013 when he knew it was misleading? Is the declassification intended to create a false sense of urgency?
Compare where we are today with the conditions Mr. Obama laid down two years ago. Referring to Iran’s smiling new president, Hasan Rouhani, Mr. Obama said: “If in fact he is able to present a credible plan that says Iran is pursuing peaceful nuclear energy but we’re not pursuing nuclear weapons, and we are willing to be part of an internationally verified structure so that all other countries in the world know they are not pursuing nuclear weapons, then, in fact, they can improve relations, improve their economy. And we should test that.”
Sure—let’s test it:
• Enrichment: Before the talks began, the Obama administration and U.N. Security Council insisted that Iran stop all uranium enrichment. So did the 2013 framework agreement. Now the deal enshrines Iran’s right to enrich.
• Stockpile: In February, Iran had 10,000 kilograms of enriched uranium, which the deal says will be reduced to 300 kilograms. The remainder is to be exported to Russia and returned to Iran as fuel rods for use in a power plant. But Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told state media at the end of March that “there is no question of sending the stocks abroad.”
• Centrifuges: Iran has about 19,000 centrifuges, and the U.S. initially called for cutting that to between 500 and 1,500. The agreement now allows 6,104. Not only that, Iran’s foreign minister has said that advanced IR-8 centrifuges, which enrich uranium 20 times faster than the current IR-1 models, will be put into operation as soon as the nuclear deal takes effect—contrary to what the U.S. has asserted.
• Infrastructure: The closure of nuclear sites at Fordow, Natanz and Arak has been an American goal for a decade. Under the deal, the 40-megawatt heavy-water nuclear plant at Arak, which produces plutonium, will remain, albeit with reduced plutonium production. The deal allows the Fordow facility, which is buried in a mountain fortress designed to withstand aerial attack, to be converted into a “peaceful research” center. Iran will be allowed to keep 1,000 centrifuges there. Natanz will remain open as well.
• Missiles: Iran stonewalled on concerns about the military dimensions of its nuclear program. U.S. negotiators dropped demands that Tehran restrict development of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver warheads.
• Duration: Initially the U.S. wanted the deal to last 20 years. Now the key terms sunset in 10 to 15 years. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the framework is likely to necessitate deepening involvement under complex new terms, as former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz wrote in this newspaper earlier this month.
• Enforcement: President Obama promises: “If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it.” This is incredibly unrealistic. Over the past year alone, Iran has violated its international agreements at least three times. In November the International Atomic Energy Agency caught Iran operating a new advanced IR-5 centrifuge. Disagreement about inspections under the deal persists. Secretary Moniz has said that inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency must be allowed access to any place at any time. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his military say no way.
• Sanctions: The deal gives Iran exactly what it wanted: permanent relief from economic sanctions in exchange for temporary restraints. Mr. Obama talks about being able to “snap back” sanctions. But consider the attitudes of two of the big players in the six-power talks. China’s press refers to “peaceful” Iran as if it were Switzerland. Russia says the deal has freed it to sell S-300 air-defense missiles to Tehran. Assuming that the West discovers a nuclear violation, it will be nearly impossible to reimpose today’s sanctions.
• Good behavior: Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei continues to denounce the U.S. as the Great Satan, making clear that Iran doesn’t expect to normalize relations. His speeches indicate that Iran still sees itself in a holy war with the West.
So here we are at the end of the rainbow, seemingly willing to concede nuclear capacity to Iran, a country we consider a principal threat. No wonder Saudi Arabia and Egypt are insisting on developing equivalent nuclear capabilities. America’s traditional allies have concluded that the U.S. has traded temporary cooperation from Iran for acquiescence to its ultimate hegemony.
The sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table took years to put in place. They have impaired Iran’s ability to conduct trade in the global market. The banking freeze in particular has had a crippling effect, since international businesses will not risk being blacklisted by the U.S. and European Union to make a few dollars in Iran. Many of those who have studied the problem believe that if the sanctions were to remain, they would squeeze Tehran and force greater concessions.
President Obama seems to be willfully ignoring Iran’s belligerent behavior and its growing influence over Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Yemen’s capital, San’a. Free of sanctions, Iran may become even more assertive.
There are no rainbows ahead, only menacing clouds.
Mr. Zuckerman is chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report.