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Why the U.S. backtracked on virtually every demand in the nuclear negotiations with Iran

By Missing Peace
Iranian ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warheadIranian ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead

With the deadline to reach a nuclear deal with Iran rapidly approaching, reports are coming out about the way the U.S. administration conducted negotiations with the Islamist regime in Tehran.

From these reports emerges a shocking picture. The Obama administration didn’t negotiate to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program but merely wanted reconciliation with the Islamic Republic.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Obama conducted clandestine contacts with Iranian officials with the goal of improving ties between the two arch-enemies from the outset of his presidency. The secret dispatches started in late 2009 after mediation by the government of Oman. Iran was very suspicious of the administration’s intentions and sent a wish list to test Obama’s commitment to improving ties. The regime in Tehran wanted the release of Iranian prisoners from American and European jails and wanted the administration to blacklist opposition groups hostile to the regime. The Iranians also demanded more visas for Iranian students who wanted to study at universities in the U.S.

Obama decided to give in to most of the Iranian demands and facilitated the release of Iranian prisoners; he blacklisted some Iranian opposition groups and granted more visas to Iranian students.

“In September 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a ‘virtual embassy,’ allowing Iran to facilitate visas and student exchange programs. Iranians had complained, via Oman, that U.S. universities were discriminating against their students,” WSJ reported.

The president also sent letters to Iranian leaders that aimed to build up the trust of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in his intentions.

The revelations about the start of the clandestine contacts with Iran in late 2009 also shed new light on Obama’s behavior after the election fraud by the Khamenei regime that led to a popular uprising in Iran in June 2009.

Obama made clear at the time that it would be “counterproductive to be seen meddling in the Iranian election results.” The president said this when he was under pressure from the Iranian opposition and public opinion in the U.S. to intervene and help the opposition topple the regime of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei.

The president justified his decision not to intervene during a television interview on June 16, 2009.

Here is what he said:

Although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi (leader of the liberal opposition) in terms of their actual positions may not be as great as has been advertised. We’ve got long-term interests in having them not weaponize nuclear power and stop funding organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. And that would be true whoever came out on top in this election.

Eventually, the back channel talks between Iran and the Obama administration paved the way to direct nuclear negotiations that started in 2013. As has become clear by now, the primary goal of the U.S. administration in these negotiations was normalization of America’s relationship with Iran.

It explains why Obama chose to decouple the nuclear negotiations from Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region and why the administration backtracked on virtually every demand that would have curbed Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, stuck to his red lines, whereas Obama made concession after concession to the Iranians during the negotiations.

Just last week, Khamenei published his red lines on Twitter and made clear he would not cave in on key aspects of the deal. Khamenei’s list contained some new conditions for a deal that violated the fact sheet that was released after the agreement in Lausanne earlier this year.

The Weekly Standard published a list of Obama’s concessions toward Iran that made clear the President will do whatever is necessary to close this deal with Iran.

Here are a few examples of the concessions the U.S. has made since the start of the negotiations with Iran:

Disclosure of previous nuclear activity

As recently as April, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Iranian disclosure of past activity was a red line for U.S. negotiators. “They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be,” Kerry said.

But on June 16, Kerry cast aside those demands. “We’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in. What we’re concerned about is going forward.”

On the closure of the Fordo underground uranium enrichment facility

Then: “The Obama administration and its partners are “demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling” of the nuclear facilities at Fordo.

(April 7, 2012, New York Times)

“We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program.”

December 6, 2013, Barack Obama, remarks at the Saban Forum

Now: “Under the preliminary accord, Fordo would become a research center, but not for any element that could potentially be used in nuclear weapons.”

April 22, 2015, New York Times

On suspension of enrichment

Then: “Our position is clear: Iran must live up to its international obligations, including full suspension of uranium enrichment as required by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

April 7, 2012, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, New York Times

Now: “Agreement on Iran’s uranium enrichment program could signal a breakthrough for a larger deal aimed at containing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities.” The tentative deal imposes “limits on the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium” but allows Iran to continue enrichment.

March 19, 2015, Associated Press

The Weekly Standard article didn’t address what is currently going on in Vienna, where the negotiations on a final agreement are taking place.

Israel Project director Omri Ceren, who is in Vienna, wrote to Western Journalism in an e-mail that the West might have made yet another concession on the inspection regime after Khamenei made clear Iran would not allow inspections of military sites.

While the IAEA has always said that any effective inspections regime demands unlimited access to all sites, reporters are now told that the “mechanism will be one of ‘managed access.’ This means the Iranians will get a voice in whether the IAEA gets access to places the Iranians might be cheating.”

That “will, in theory, give them the ability to cheat safely for months before having to shut down,” Ceren wrote.

To understand the Administration’s eagerness to reconcile with the Islamic Republic of Iran, one shouldread a new article by Associated Press journalists Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper.

They reported that a certain kind of coziness had been created between administration officials and Iranian diplomats that took a toll on relations with longtime allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Whether or not the U.S. and its negotiating powers can clinch a pact in Austria’s capital over the next several days, it’s hard to imagine the tentative U.S.-Iranian rapprochement ending anytime soon. It’s become the new normal.

Klapper and Lee gave some examples of the “new normal”:

In March, Kerry began a meeting by offering condolences to Rouhani after his mother died and wished the Iranians a Happy Persian New Year with the traditional declaration of “Nowruz Mubarak.” Later, he approached Rouhani’s brother, a member of the Iranian negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland and hugged him.

The AP journalists reported that the rapprochement is not exactly a two-way street:

Only last week, many Iranian parliamentarians chanted “Death to America” as they passed legislation that would bar nuclear inspectors from visiting military sites – a key U.S. and international demand. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has delivered a series of speeches sharply denouncing U.S. intentions and tactics in the nuclear talks and on broader geopolitical matters.

The Iranian coldness and anti-U.S. rhetoric has not prevented unprecedented cooperation between the U.S. forces and Iran in Iraq. Last week, Bloomberg reported that “U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both using the Taqqadum military base in Anbar, the same Iraqi base where President Obama is sending an additional 450 U.S. military personnel to help train the local forces fighting against the Islamic State. Some of the Iran-backed Shiite militias at the base have killed American soldiers in the past.”

The Iraqi government has no control over the Shiite militia groups at the Taqqadum base. Bloomberg interviewed a senior administration official who said that “Iran is ushering in a new Hezbollah era in Iraq, and we will have aided and abetted it.”

“With the deadline approaching for a nuclear deal that would place up to $150 billion in the hands of Iran, the U.S. is now openly acknowledging in its annual report on international terrorism that Iran is supporting a foreign legion, comprising Afghans, Iraqis and Lebanese fighters, to defend Iranian interests throughout the Middle East,” Bloomberg reported.

The latest news coming out of Vienna is that a deal with Iran is possible in the coming days, although the June 30 deadline will not be met. EU Foreign Policy chief Frederica Mogherini said today: “I would say that the political will is there. I’ve seen it from all sides we have conditions now to close the deal.”

The news about the imminent deal led to a sharp reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu at the start of a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I am not impressed by the potholes in the nuclear talks. To my regret, what we are seeing are Iran’s increasing demands, and the major powers’ concessions that are also increasing, in keeping with the Iranian pressure. This agreement is going from a bad agreement to a worse agreement and is becoming worse by the day,” Netanyahu said.

This article was first published by Western Journalism in the USA