Giving Iran the Store

Monday’s reported explosion at Iran’s secretive Parchin nuclear site – leaving two dead and shattering windows 12 kilometers away – is welcome news to those concerned about Tehran’s nuclear progress, but it’s likely a mere blip on what seems an increasingly smooth Iranian road to nuclear weaponry.

For a host of reasons, Washington is growing ever-more desperate for a nuclear deal through which to claim a diplomatic victory, while Tehran is growing less concerned about the ultimate outcome of the ongoing talks and, not surprisingly, more intransigent about offering new concessions.

That leaves Israel to ponder military action against Iran’s nuclear sites at a time when Iran’s leaders are lobbing new apocalyptic threats against the Jewish State and when Jerusalem is besieged on a host of other fronts: For instance, U.S.-Israeli relations are strained over West Bank settlements, Hamas is rearming in Gaza, and Islamic State group militants pose new threats near the Golan Heights.

U.S. desperation for a diplomatic triumph in the Middle East is understandable. All over the region, the chickens of Washington’s missteps of the past six years are coming home to roost. A president who was determined to flee Iraq as soon as possible and wind down U.S. wars rather than start them was forced to return to Iraq with military action (and extend it to Syria). A president who hoped to “lead from behind” was forced to step out front in order to rally the world against the Islamic State group.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry also hope a nuclear deal will further entice Iran, the region’s leading Shiite state, to join U.S.-led efforts to confront the Sunni radicals of the Islamic State group – even though, on nearby battlefields of late, Iranian-backed militias have killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

Nevertheless, the U.S. negotiating posture toward Iran remains rooted in fantasy over reality, for it reflects a set of misguided White House and State Department views about Tehran, its interests and its incentives.

The nearly one year since U.S.-led negotiators and Iran inked an interim nuclear deal last November has been marked by missed Iranian deadlines for action, followed by more U.S. concessions, followed by more Iranian intransigence, followed by more U.S. concessions.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, insists that Tehran will not dismantle any of its 19,000 centrifuges, and he recently called for a 10-fold increase in his nation’s enrichment capacity. At the same time, Iran is developing more sophisticated centrifuges that, if installed, can enrich much more quickly.

In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that, despite Iran’s late 2013 promise to provide more transparency about its nuclear work, Tehran ignored an August 25 deadline to fully explain its past work in explosive technologies that have nuclear weapons applications.

Meanwhile, Washington has withdrawn its previous demand that Iran abandon all uranium enrichment, discarded its previous effort to restrain Iran’s burgeoning ballistic missile program as part of the negotiations, and offered to set a date after which all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would expire.

Now, for the ongoing talks, U.S. officials are considering whether to give Tehran a greater enrichment capacity under a negotiated deal. Specifically, they’re mulling whether to offer that Tehran keep half of its centrifuges running while reducing its stockpile of uranium gas, or that it keep the centrifuges in place while disconnecting the circuits and pipes to feed the uranium gas for processing.

Why Tehran would become more pliable in the face of more U.S. concessions, however, remains a mystery for two reasons.

First, the more Tehran digs in, the more desperate Washington becomes – not only privately but, more tellingly, publicly. With more U.S. concessions following more Iranian intransigence as predictably as night follows day, Tehran has no reason to change course.

Second, the sanctions relief that last year’s interim agreement provided to Iran has proved an economic boon, helping lift Iran from its dire straits and, in turn, further reducing Tehran’s incentive to negotiate.

Iran’s economy grew 4.6 percent in the first quarter of its calendar year (March 21 to June 21) compared to the same period a year earlier, according to official estimates from the Central Bank of Iran. In addition, as the watchdog group United Against Nuclear Iran has reported, inflation has fallen from 45 percent to 21 percent, Iran’s currency is up 11 percent, and its stock market index is up 57 percent.

Those concerned about Iran’s nuclear progress are left to wonder how much more Washington is willing to offer Iran in return for a deal – and whether that deal will do much of anything to restrain Iran’s nuclear program.

Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

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