Losin’ in Lausanne (8)

Omri Ceren writes from Lausanne to put today’s announcement of a “framework” for an agreement in perspective:

Zarif just finished his speech, and there’s a break while the President speaks back in DC. But some of what Zarif revealed has already generated controversy. There was a lot of braggadocio in the speech: no closing of facilities, R&D will continue on Iran’s scientific schedule, enrichment will continue, the heavy water at Arak will be modernized, etc.

Perhaps most relevant to people who have been following the day-to-day in Lausanne, is that Zarif confirmed the U.S. has completely caved on the Fordow concession that the AP blew open on Thursday. Recall that Fordow is the underground bunker, built into the side of a mountain, which the Iranians emptied and made into an illicit enrichment facility. The assumption had always been that the Iranians would have to close it under any reasonable deal.

President Obama was saying as late as 2012: “We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program” [1].

The Iranians simply said no [2]. So the Americans caved and said that they could keep it open as a research facility, but they had to remove all the centrifuges for storage [3]. The compromise was the brainchild of Robert Einhorn from Brookings – a top State nonproliferation official stretching back to the Clinton era – and there was a lot of talk of Iranian flexibility when they accepted it [4]. Then this week, it emerged that in fact the Iranians would be allowed to keep centrifuges spinning inside the mountain.

But instead of spinning uranium, the centrifuges would be spinning germanium or similar non-nuclear elements. That’s the administration’s talking point: that there will not be any “enrichment” going on at Fordow. The claim is – bluntly – false. Centrifuges spin isotopes into lighter and heavier elements, thereby “enriching” the material. That’s what they do. In fact that’s all they do. The administration has gone all-in on a talking point can be defeated by a Google search for “centrifuges enrich germanium” (if you’re fastidious you can set the Google search to before the AP scoop, to make sure you’re not getting Fordow-specific articles).

This isn’t a minor point. The concession has the potential to gut the whole deal:

(1) Allows N-generation centrifuge R&D beyond the reach of the West – since the process is the exact same process, Iran will have a hardened facility where it will be able to research and develop N-generation centrifuges. Zarif bragged from the stage in Lausanne that Iranian R&D on centrifuges will continue on IR-4s, IR-5s, IR-6s, and IR-8s, and that the pace of research will be tied to Iranian scientific progress. The development of advanced centrifuges would give the Iranians a leg up if they decide to break out, and will put them instantly within a screw’s turn of a nuke when the deal expires.

(2) Leaves Iranian nuclear infrastructure running beyond the reach of the West – if the Iranians kick out inspectors and dare the world to respond, the West will have zero way to intervene. The Iranians will have a head start on enrichment, and a place to do it beyond the reach of Western weapons. The administration’s early pushback has been that the breakout time will still be a year, so they could in theory reimpose sanctions, but it takes more than a year for sanctions to take an economic toll. So: zero options to stop a breakout.

[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/bret-stephens-the-capitulationist-1427758881
[2] http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Rejecting-US-comments-on-its-nuclear-program-Iran-FM-says-Fordo-Arak-are-non-negotiable-340458
[3] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-07-09/news/sns-rt-us-iran-nuclear-fordow-20140709_1_fordow-enriched-uranium-interim-nuclear-deal
[4] http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/03/31-nuclear-armed-iran-einhorn

Omni follows up with this:

The issue of sequencing sanctions relief – how, when, and to what extent sanctions will be lifted in exchange for Iranian compliance – was one of the key sticking points over the last week. At some points journalists were describing it as a near-obsession of the Iranians, the suspicion being that they had received some very specific instructions from the Supreme Leader (or had made some very ambitious representations to him).

Achieving an understanding on sanctions would bhave to be counted as a major achievement, and it’s already being claimed as such. But there’s something wrong here. I haven’t figured out what it is yet, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.

— The EU/Iran joint statement says sanctions will be terminated “simultaneously” with Iran implementing its obligations (http://www.eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/2015/150402_03_en.htm): The EU will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions and the US will cease the application of all nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions, simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments.

— The White House factsheet says sanctions will be suspended “after” Iran has taken “all” of its nuclear-related steps (https://www.scribd.com/doc/260719595/Parameters-for-a-Joint-Comprehensive-Plan-of-Action-regarding-the-Islamic-Republic-of-Iran-s-Nuclear-Program): U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.

Zarif is already saying the White House is lying about how sanctions will be lifted:


The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using “fact sheets” so early on.


Iran/5+1 Statement: “US will cease the application of ALL nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions.” Is this gradual?


Iran/P5+1 Statement: “The EU will TERMINATE the implementation of ALL nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions”. How about this?

The last time Zarif accused the Obama administration of lying on a factsheet was after the JPOA was announced, in the context of granting a “right to enrich.” He was 100% right and the Americans were 100% wrong.

It’s not clear what the actual sanctions deal is, but it’s worrying that there are already differences. If the Americans are right, then the Iranians are setting up unrealistic expectations for their people and making a deal untenable. If the Iranians are right, then the White House is again misleading journalists and lawmakers about the actual scope of their concessions.

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