Goodnight Vienna (3)

Omri Ceren provides an email update on the latest from Vienna, this one addressing “State Dept vs. State Dept on Iran cheating on deal — contradicts State Dept damage control on Iran violations.” Omni writes:

Day 3 of this, and still nothing on the record from the Obama administration about why it’s OK to let the Iranians be in violation of the interim JPOA’s requirement that they convert their excess enriched uranium (UF6) into uranium dioxide powder (UO2). The main argument appears to be that the Iranians got close enough: a “US official” told the Associated Press the US was “satisfied” with Iran transforming the uranium gas into something that’s not dioxide, and yesterday Scott Kemp – a former science advisor for the State Department on Iran’s nuclear program – tweeted that the distinction was about “minor chemical variants not meaningful in the slightest.”

No, it’s not. The issue isn’t about chemical variants of uranium oxide as mandated by the interim JPOA deal. It’s about the credibility of the final JCPOA deal that Congress will have to evaluate. For the interim agreement, the administration invented an unproven technological quick-fix so that it could cave to an Iranian demand – the demand to keep enriching – while still telling lawmakers that Tehran’s program was “frozen.” When that technological quick-fix failed the White House went into “Iran’s lawyer” mode: first they declared that skeptics were wrong and that the Iranians would stay in compliance – because White House scientists said so (!) – and when that became indefensible they weakened the deal’s criteria so they could claim the Iranians weren’t cheating.

The political problem is straightforward: for the final deal, and especially for the administration’s core claim that “scientists” confirm a one-year breakout time, everything hinges on the success of a dozen similar technological quick-fixes. At least a couple of those too-cute-by-half mechanisms are also likely to fail. In evaluating the deal Congress will want assurances that the Obama administration will hold Iran accountable for noncompliance. So it’s politically problematic for State Department officials to keep declaring that the Iranians came close enough, so who cares?

Maybe the State Department will come up with something else before the Iranian cheating is overtaken by events. But they’re on the wrong side of this debate. Every year the Congressional Research Service publishes a report on the JPOA. Every year the State Department publishes those CRS reports on Those reports have no ambiguity. Here’s the language:

Iran is also to, in effect, freeze its production of enriched uranium hexafluoride containing up to 5% uranium-235 by converting the material to uranium dioxide. Tehran would take this step when it has completed the necessary facility, which is currently under construction.

The 2013 and 2014 reports live here.

The conventional wisdom remains that the President retains sufficient political capital to hold a sufficient number of Congressional Democrats on whatever Iran deal negotiators bring home. But if lawmakers were evaluating the agreement based on whether the Obama administration will even enforce it, 100% of the evidence cuts the other way. In the last 20 months, the administration has never called out Iranian cheating, and has instead played Iran’s lawyer on half a dozen different JPOA and UN sanctions violations.