The mullahs’ message for Obama

The Associated Press reports that Iran nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi has made an announcement. He says the country is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment but that they need further tests before they can be mass produced. The AP attributes the announcement to an apparent desire to “counter hard-liner criticism of its nuclear deal with word [sic] powers.”

The story continues in the second paragraph with reference to the Joint Plan of Action announced last month in Geneva (see text accompanying footnotes 1 & 2):

Under a landmark nuclear deal reached last month in Geneva, Iran promised not to bring new centrifuges into operation for six months, part of temporary limitations on its uranium enrichment program in return for the easing of some sanctions. But the deal does not stop it from developing centrifuges.

The AP reiterates its thesis regarding the rationale of the announcement in the third paragraph:

Salehi’s comments appeared aimed at showing the country is moving ahead with its nuclear program into order to fend off criticism by Iranian hard-liners, who have denounced the deal, calling it a surrender in the face of Western pressure. The government of new President Hassan Rouhani says the deal recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

The AP doesn’t say so, but Rouhani’s reading of the deal is perfectly fair. The JPOA contemplates a comprehensive deal formally recognizing “a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities, capacity, where it is carried out, and stocks of enriched uranium, for a period to be agreed upon.” Under the deal, Iran is never required to cease its program of uranium enrichment. Hey, we’re not that judgmental.

The AP attributes the announcement of new centrifuges by Salehi to a split between Iranian hard-liners and moderates. Yet the announcement requires some explanation. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez told Fox News that the “Iranians are showing their true intentions” with their latest announcement.

“If you’re talking about producing more advanced centrifuges that are only used to enrich uranium at a quicker rate … the only purposes of that and the only reason you won’t give us access to [a military research facility] is because you’re really not thinking about nuclear power for domestic energy — you’re thinking about nuclear power for nuclear weapons,” he said.

But we knew that already, didn’t we? I would offer a twofold explanation.

First, the announcement serves the mullahs’ purposes in Geneva. The AP doesn’t mention it, but the parties are still negotiating over the implementation of the JPOA. The mullahs know how to play hardball and they are doing so. They want to provide an additional incentive to expedite the resolution of outstanding issues in their favor.

Second, the Iranians have Obama’s number and they mean to advertise it. They are sending a message. They see him as a pathetic weakling whom they can push around without consequence. Obama and Kerry are smart enough to know they are being humiliated, but they don’t care. They are more than willing to endure humiliation in the service of what they deem to be a higher cause.