Iran moves the goal posts again

In negotiations, parties tend to moderate their positions as the deadline for a deal approaches. Sometimes, though, the parties (or at least one of them) aren’t willing to compromise. Instead, they continue to insist on the positions they have maintained throughout the process.

What’s quite unusual is for a party, at eleventh hour, to insist on a position it hasn’t previously taken. When this occurs, it means one of two things: either the party pulling the switch doesn’t want a deal or it realizes that the other side is so desperate for a deal that it can act in blatant bad faith with impunity.

The New York Times reports that “with a negotiating deadline just two days away, Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country.” Until now, Iran has been agreeable to sending the material to Russia.

Has Iran decided that it doesn’t want a deal? Or has it concluded that President Obama is so desperate for one that it can pull the rug out from under him at the last minute and get a better bargain as a result?

In either case, the U.S. should walk away. But Iran has taken the measure of Obama and correctly concluded that, however outrageously it acts, Obama will not walk away.

Instead, according to the Times, the administration is looking at “other ways of dealing with the material” such as “blending it into a more diluted form.” Here we see the complaint of Amir Hossein Mottaghi, the Iranian defector, made manifest. As he says, the U.S. negotiating team is “mainly [present] to speak on Iran’s behalf.”

Even the New York Times acknowledges that keeping the fuel in Iran would, at a minimum, give Iran another way to cheat on the agreement. Would inspectors be able to make sure the material was being diluted? Might not they be denied the access necessary to detect such cheating, as they have been denied access in other contexts?

Quite possibly. In any event, we shouldn’t have to worry about these scenarios, especially since Iran has been willing all along to accepts an arrangement that precludes them.

According to Ray Takeyh, “one of the core administration arguments has been that the uranium would be shipped abroad as a confidence building measure.” Iran’s sudden unwillingness to ship out the uranium should therefore undermine whatever confidence Team Obama might have in Iran’s intent to comply.

The negotiations have, indeed, built confidence. Iran has become fully confident that Obama, so desperate for any deal, will take without serious complaint just about any kick in the teeth the mullahs deliver.

Each kick makes a bad deal even worse.

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