Hillary May Be the Nuclear Deal Breaker

hillaryThis may sound far-fetched but it really isn’t: At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton may be the only person who will decide whether to make or break a deal with Iran. This isn’t a job she might willingly take upon herself but it may simply be a case of being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

Check out this scenario and then make up your own mind.

 

 

Now that the deal is inked…

Khamenei_2162138bOn July 14th, Kerry and Zarif finally reached a formula that seemed mutually acceptable to both sides. The number of centrifuges, the levels and percentages of uranium enrichments, the protocols of access to IAEA inspectors, blocking the plutonium route etc…Pages upon pages of details meant to block Iran from making a nuclear bomb and meant to unblock money from sanctions. Both sides shook hands, smiled for the cameras and then headed home.

Based on the aftermath of earlier deals both in Geneva and in Lausanne, the two diplomats will now have to focus on pking holes in the agreement in an effort to “sell the deal” to their people. Concessions will be made to seem smaller, details will become ambiguous, conflicting fact sheets will be circulated and accusations will be heard around the globe.

Meanwhile, the deal will be placed before the Majlis in Tehran and before Congress to be ratified:

Will Khamenei council the Majlis to sign or not? Will Obama veto or not? Time will tell. If either one doesn’t, the deal dies. But if both do, they will have to deal with Hillary.

 

After Obama vetoes congress…

secretaryclintonheadshot.0Supposing that Obama and Khamenei decide to lead their countries to a nuclear deal.

This may be enough for Iran since the Majlis will back Khamenei in any case but this may not be enough for the US since Congress can overturn Obama’s veto with a majority of two thirds.

In comes Hillary Clinton and all the evidence point to the fact that she will probably place her weight to sway congress to veto Obama’s veto. Here are a few reasons why:

  • A “deal” and not a “treaty”: The negotiations are set to deliver a nuclear “deal” with Iran and not a “treaty”. This isn’t simply an issue of semantics: A deal is binding to the current administration, a treaty is binding to future administrations. If Hillary becomes president, she can decide whether to back the deal or not anyway.
  • It’s personal: The relationship between Hillary and Obama is strained, to say the least. Insiders say that Hillary is blaming Obama for leaking her e-mails which turned into a media sensations. Blocking Obama’s veto may be sweet vengeance for Hillary.
  • Pro-Iran & Pro-Israel: Although Obama claims to “have Israel’s back”, the whole issue of a nuclear deal with Iran was definitely a slap in the face to Tel Aviv. Hillary, on the other hand is much more pro-Israeli and much less pro-Iranian.
  • The elections are coming: Hillary hasn’t won the elections yet but there doesn’t seem to be a Republican candidate who will give her a real fight. Obama, on the other hand, is on his out of the White House. Approving a deal may antagonize some democrats but squashing a deal will rally support from the Jewish electorate as well as from some Republicans who might find her more appealing than Jeb Bush.

 

If the deal does ever get into Hillary’s hands, there is a good chance that she will send it crashing down in the hope of gaining more support in Congress and in the streets for her elections. Makes sense?

 

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Nuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

intent contentNuclear Deal Requires more Intent and less Content

Most people are trying to decide if a nuclear deal with Iran is good or not based on the contents of the deal: the number of centrifuges, the amount of uranium, the transparency of inspections etc…

God may be in the details but in this case, he/she can be found in the intentions of both sides. And since there is a huge lack of trust between both sides, the validity of the deal is not to be found in what is written but in what is intended and how it is communicated. Not the “what” but the “how” and the why”.

As it stands, this deal isn’t worth the paper it is printed on and much less the amount of time and money that has been invested in it.

 

What are the intentions of the West?

flag 2It’s evident that the West’s main intention is to stop Iran from militarizing its nuclear program. And although Iran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), supporters of the regime believe that Tehran should not be subjected to such restrictions while its arch enemy, Israel isn’t.

Since 2003, the IAEA has repeatedly found that Iran is not complying to NPT guidelines in numerous manners (enrichment above the 5% cap, tests on weaponization, denial of access to nuclear and military bases etc…) as outlined in the IAEA reports on Iran. These fears of non-compliance by Iran in its nuclear program led the UN Security Council to slap on a multitude of sanctions on Iran in the hope that Iran would comply to all IAEA and NPT guidelines.

Tehran has repeatedly denied accusations of non-compliance to the NPT, calling them baseless and politicized, stating that it “has constantly complied with its obligations under the NPT and the Statute of the IAEA“. From this point of view, the sanctions seem unfair and cruel and the nuclear deal is seen to simply be a way to lift these sanctions.

But Khamenei doesn’t believe that the West’s intentions are focused only on blocking a militarized nuclear program. As far as he is concerned, the “sanctions imposed against Iran have nothing to do with Tehran’s nuclear activities” but instead are meant to prevent Iran from “reaching a prominent civilizational status”.  Furthermore, Khamenei feels his infamous “nuclear fatwa” – the use or threat of using a nuclear weapon is “haram” (a sin) – is more than enough to allay any fears in the West.

 

What are the intentions of Tehran?

iran-flagIt is next to impossible to understand what Tehran, or more specifically, what Khamenei really wants. Lifting the sanctions is obviously the first and necessary step to right what he believes is an unjust wrong enforced by the West on Iran.

But Khamenei’s rhetoric and Tehran’s actions go much further than simply lifting sanctions: Khamenei has been pushing for a long-awaited “Global Islamic Awakening” which would unseat the “hegemony” of the “imperialist/colonialist” and “arrogant powers” (USA = the Great Satan) who have dominated the world for the past two centuries and who have “humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could”. In his vision, the coming century is to be “the century of Islam”, led by Iran through its experience in the Islamic Revolution.

Furthermore, Tehran is dedicated to export the Islamic Revolution, a vision developed by Khomeini himself and upheld by the IRGC’s elite Qods unit as is evident in this boasting statement by Qods chief, Qassem Suleimani: “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”

Tehran’s military and political involvement in Lebanon (de facto governing through Hezbollah), Gaza (de facto governing through Hamas), Syria (supporting Assad in the civil war in Syria), Iraq (installing a pro-Iran government in Iraq and fighting ISIS), Yemen (supporting Houthi rebels to overthrow the Yemenite government) and Bahrain (supporting Shiite extremists to overthrow the Bahraini government) are statements to Iran’s regional and global aspirations. Further evidence of “exporting the revolution” and “Islamic Awakening” have been identified in other Gulf States, Arab states in the Middle East as well as many states in Africa and in South America.

Seen in this light, a militarized nuclear program would greatly enhance the chances of bringing to fruition both leaders’ visions and is causing the West to distrust Tehran’s motives.

 

Motives will make or break the Nuclear Deal

kerry zarifThe biggest problem surrounding the nuclear deal is the lack of trust which is unsuccessfully replaced with a myriad of details. As such, any deal, if signed, is destined to fail due to the basic lack of trust.

So, what would make a good deal? Only one thing: a total about-face by Tehran in regards to its motives and behavior that will build trust.

Imagine if Tehran had approached the negotiations for a nuclear deal with complete acceptance to comply to all IAEA/NPT guidelines and manage a nuclear program within the boundaries of supplying electricity. No need for enrichment beyond 5%, for so many centrifuges, for heavy water plants, for blocking access to bases, for testing weaponization etc…Creating electricity, and nothing more.

Imagine if Tehran had given up on its efforts to meddle in neighboring countries and on its aspirations to lead an empire in the region. No involvement in civil wars and efforts to overturn governments, no more support to terrorist organizations, no more threats to destroy Israel…Thriving peacefully, and nothing more.

There would have been no need for sanctions or a nuclear deal since Iran would be treated like any other country with a nuclear program meant for peaceful purposes.

 

Unfortunately, Tehran wants to keep its cake and eat it: It wants to lift sanctions but also wants to maintain its nuclear program and its aspirations for regional dominance intact. As such, the nuclear deal is akin to a marriage by two people who don’t trust each other since they met – divorce is inevitable.

 

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Iran and US Agree to Disagree and Disagree to Agree

agree to disagree

Apart from the initial smiles and hugs following the framework agreement orchestrated by Kerry and Zarif in Lausanne, the only issue that both sides could agree on is their mutual disagreement.

The conflicting fact sheets, the ambiguities, the loose ends, the nuances, the continued efforts to sell the agreement back home to hardliners on both sides and the wish to maintain bargaining pressure all led to the point where an agreement was signed but nobody understands exactly what are the terms of the agreement.

 

The Key Disagreements

disagreement-1The disagreements are not cases of “crossing T’s and dotting I’s”. In fact, some of them are at the crux of a nuclear agreement designed to force Iran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program:

  • Lifting of sanctions: Iran wants immediate dissemination of sanctions on signing the final deal while the US wants the sanctions to be removed gradually in response to Iran’s behavior.
  • Areas of inspections: Iran agrees to the inspections of all nuclear sites registered with the IAEA while the US wants to include military/civilian bases that are suspected of being used to militarize the nuclear program.
  • Bases of enrichment: Iran plans to continue enrichment in all nuclear bases that do so today while the US wants enrichment to be carried out in the base in Natanz and nowhere else.

Other points of disagreement include the types of centrifuges to be used, the rights to enrich beyond 3.67% for “research” purposes and sanctions that aren’t nuclear-related.

 

The Rhetoric of Disagreement

disagreementBut apart from the fact sheets, it is worth listening to the conflicting rhetoric on both sides.

Let’s start with Supreme leader Khamenei since he is the ultimate deal maker/breaker. At best, he is non-committal: he “neither supports nor opposes the deal” since “everything is in the details.” Of course, he blames the “devilish” USA for being deceptive and remains firm on his demands that “all sanctions should be removed when the deal is signed”. In a later statement, he alluded to the problem of the US’s ambiguity as the main hurdle for talks on any issue.

President Rouhani echoes Khamenei’s insistence that all sanctions should end on the day the deal is signed while adding that “the Iranian nation has been and will be the victor in the negotiations” and that the US and the EU could not “overpower” Iran’s “formidable” diplomats, legal experts and politicians.

FM Zarif’s rhetoric is similar to Rouhani’s on all points and Iranian nuclear chief Salehi straightforwardly stated that the centrifuges will keep spinning in a “business as usual” fashion, meaning that nothing within the nuclear program would stop.

On the other side of the world, Secretary of State Kerry is sticking to his fact sheet saying that “the deal is what we said it was” and the White House insists that sanctions relief would be “phased”. President Obama candidly explained that he is “not surprised” at the conflicting views and promised that “we won’t have to speculate on what the (nuclear) deal will be” because the final deal will be detailed and clear of any ambiguities.

It seems ironic that it is the lawmakers on both sides who are not willing to accept a ambiguous deal which is open to disputations: 163 MP’s of Iran’s Majlis have signed a petition demanding that Zarif publish Iran’s fact sheet. Meanwhile, in Washington, Kerry is trying to fight off demands by congress to clarify the discrepancies of the fact sheets.

 

Some things are clear

putin

If the US and Iran can manage to find a detailed deal that both sides can sign, sanctions will be relieved and Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb may be slowed down. But even Obama has no qualms about the fact that no nuclear deal can keep Iran away from a bomb if it wishes to militarize its nuclear program. With or without a deal, Iran will probably reach nuclear break-out at some point which would eventually lead to a war.

On the other hand, guess who doesn’t really care about the discrepancies? Russia, China, Turkey, India and a host of other countries looking to cash in on the deal…but first and foremost, Russia. Why? Because Russia is in a classic win-win situation: If the nuclear deal is or isn’t inked, Russia will benefit from increased trade and supply Iran with nuclear sites and uranium. Furthermore, Russia has already declared that it plans to sell specialized anti-aircraft missiles on par with the US’s patriot missiles to defend Iran’s nuclear sites. And if a war does erupt over Iran’s nuclear program, you know whose side Russia will be on!

The Ever-Elusive “Nuclear Deal”

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More Delays on Nuclear Deal

Based on the latest news (November 11th), it seems that the road to a “Nuclear Deal” between P5+1 and Iran is a long and winding one.

The latest talks in Geneva ended in a stalemate although it is still not clear what the deal-breaker really was. The French want tighter restrictions on Tehran’s possible Plutonium route to a bomb through its heavy water plant in Arak. The Iranians insist on recognition of its rights to enrichment. And nobody knows what to do with Tehran’s current stockpile of 20% enriched Uranium.

Talks are meant to resume on November 20th.

In the meantime, Iran left the negotiating table with more time to continue what it has done over the past few years: enrich Uranium and add to its 20% stockpile, add more centrifuges and prepare Arak to be operational by 2014.

This situation eerily echoes the time-delaying tactics that Rouhani used himself back in 2003-2005 as nuclear negotiator which allowed Iran to develop its nuclear program to the stage it is in today. Remember that Rouhani himself correctly and proudly said in his elections statement:  “We were the ones to complete it (the nuclear program)! We completed the technology.”

 

IAEA Stretches Time

In the meantime, the IAEA and Iran issued a joint statement of cooperation to resolve “outstanding issues” and that Iran should provide “timely information about its nuclear facilities”.  The statement is followed up with a list of “initial practical measures to be taken by Iran within three months” which includes providing “mutually agreed relevant information and managed access” to all nuclear-related sited including Arak as well as clarifications regarding enrichment facilities and technologies.

The IAEA wants timely information but has given Tehran three months to do so. Seeing as Iran can get closer to the bomb with every day that its program is left unchecked and unchallenged, it seems that three months might be a jackpot for Tehran if it is really intending to build a bomb.

Maybe the IAEA should take a better look at how Syria managed to come clean to come clean on its chemical weapons capabilities in a much shorter time.

Time Running Out In Tehran

As the talks continued in Geneva, it is getting clearer that the true obstacles are back in Tehran.

President Rouhani and his government are facing a tough situation at home: Iran’s fundamentalist hardliners, spearheaded by the leading IRGC officials,view any agreement as a show of weakness. Flag burning and “Death to America” chants followed Friday prayers at the Tehran university.

And although Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is still supportive of the talks, he is not optimistic that they “will bear fruit” and is under a lot of pressure from the “hardliners in the Revolutionary Guards” who want to sabotage the talks.

Will the IRGC give Rouhani the required time to strike a nuclear deal? Will Khamenei continue to back the negotiations? Or perhaps, the real question is does Iran really want to reach a deal which might cripple its ability to build a bomb?

The answers my friends, are  blowing in the winds above Tehran.