The Iran Negotiations That Count
Since we don’t know what Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, said at the recent confab in Istanbul, we can’t be sure that Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu was right to dismiss the powwow as a “freebie” for Tehran. Also, the Islamic Republic is a theocracy: The most senior officials need to report face-to-face to their master. Jalili, an ill-tempered, narrow-minded, one-legged veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, lost face after a disastrous meeting in Geneva in October 2009, when he tentatively agreed to a nuclear-fuel swap, only to see the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, bat the deal down from Tehran. So no matter how well rehearsed, Jalili would need time for his boss to digest what was demanded and offered. In any case, as long as the Iranians were polite, we were going to have two meetings. And so there is another get-together scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad.
The odds are high, however, that the next session will lead to no diplomatic yellow-brick road. Round two could be a success, and lead to a round three, if Khamenei agreed to do five things: (1) Stop all uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity, which is near bomb-grade; (2) ship abroad the entire stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium; (3) close the Fordow enrichment facility, which is buried under a mountain near the clerical city of Qom; (4) allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency immediate and unfettered access to any suspected nuclear site; and (5) permit the IAEA to install devices on centrifuges for monitoring uranium-enrichment levels. Khamenei is, to say the least, unlikely to agree to this.
It’s worth stressing that it is a serious mistake to allow Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards, who oversee terrorist operations and the nuclear program, any domestic enrichment capacity. This was the position of the Obama administration and our Western European allies. Now that consensus has apparently collapsed because Iranian agreement seems impossible. Khamenei’s determination to keep advancing uranium enrichment despite increasingly severe sanctions has paid off. Tehran has enough low-grade, 3.5 percent enriched uranium stockpiled to produce at least one, soon two, nuclear weapons. It also has a 163-pound stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. As Oli Heinonen, the former deputy director general of the IAEA, has pointed out, mastering 3.5 percent enrichment is 70 percent of the way to mastering the fuel cycle for an atomic weapon. Twenty percent enrichment is 90 percent of the process.