Iran’s nuclear program

Failed to Cut a Deal With Iran? Better Than Making a Bad One


Tehran has been cheating for years. Do we think the regime will suddenly embrace nuclear transparency?

2014-11-26 by José María Aznar

Just about every Western leader is consistently on record regarding Iran’s nuclear program, saying: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” Unfortunately rhetoric does not match reality. We have learned about secret letters begging Iran for a compromise; we know about the business appetite to normalize relations with the regime of the ayatollahs; and we can sense the psychological urge for politicians to check off Iran as a problem solved.


Still, a bad deal is a bad deal. The Nov. 24 deadline for a deal expired with neither a significant change in Iranian demands nor a more cooperative attitude from Tehran. Despite this, Western countries led by the U.S. administration have extended the talks to next summer. In our willingness to play Iran’s game, I believe that we are marching toward signing a very bad deal with Iran.


When Iran’s clandestine nuclear efforts and their possible military application were discovered more than a decade ago, the international community called—through several United Nations resolutions—for a total dismantling of Iran’s uranium-enrichment capabilities. In the past year and a half, that goal was abandoned by Western negotiators, and Iran was granted the right to enrich.


So now the nuclear talks are about what level of enrichment will be allowed and about how many centrifuges Iran can keep spinning. Those technicalities should not blind us to a basic truth: Iran will be, after any further concessions in this area, a virtual nuclear power. It will be able to produce low-enriched uranium and will have the infrastructure to move to military-grade enrichment whenever the Iranian leadership so chooses.


When the first negotiations started 10 years ago, Iran had no operational capability to make a bomb. Now Iran has all the knowledge, components and infrastructure to produce fissile material and test delivery systems, and it has the know-how to master weaponization.


In trying to hard to get the nuclear issue off the table so that relations with Iran can be normalized and the country can be reintegrated into international circles, we are putting the cart before the horse. This is a dramatic change since Iran’s 1979 revolution, when the Islamic Republic was designated a state sponsor of terrorism and considered to be a revolutionary power intent on transforming the world order.


Obviously, everyone would love to have a “normal” Iran, respecting international norms and behaving cooperatively with other nations. But the reality is that Iran remains the Islamic Republic, with all the ambitions of a hegemonic regional power. Its human-rights record, with one execution every seven hours, is deplorable. Its ties to groups like the terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah, to whom Iran supplies weapons, money and advisers, are stronger than ever. And its support of bloody regimes, like the one in Syria, or sectarian governments, like Iraq’s, has produced more instability and problems than solutions.


The Islamic Republic is now present and influential in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, having paid little price for its expansion of power. On the contrary, the ayatollahs have retained what they wanted most: uranium-enrichment capabilities.


Iranian President Hasan Rouhani may present a smiling face and even be genuinely interested in some reforms, but the real power of Iran, the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, is personally committed to the vision advanced three decades ago by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: a Persian, Shiite, revolutionary, theocratic (and ruthless) government. Thinking that major concessions from the West will strengthen so-called moderate Iranians is as much wishful thinking today as it was years ago. Mr. Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard would be the ones empowered from a nuclear agreement; the Iranian people would remain under the oppressive regime for years to come. That is not a moral proposition easy to swallow for any democrat.


Finally, Iran has been cheating from the very beginning. Tehran developed a clandestine nuclear program that it only admitted to after it was exposed by Iranian dissidents in 2002. Twelve years later, the most recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s watchdog, shows that Iran is still hiding critical aspects of its nuclear program.


Do we think Iran will suddenly turn into a regime of transparency and verification? If Tehran’s leaders have any interest in reaching an agreement, it is because they have been forced to consider it. Economic sanctions became too costly for the leaders’ own survival. Some are now calling for the West to be more flexible on sanctions—after having already lifted some of them last year to reward Iran for its willingness to talk to us. But concessions will only strengthen the hard-liners in Tehran who believe that the West is simply debating between appeasement and outright capitulation.


So now comes another round of nuclear talks with Iran. We should heed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he says, “Don’t rush into a deal that will let Iran rush to the bomb.” The presence of a nuclear-armed Shiite Islamic Republic in an already unstable Middle East would have dire repercussions around the world. This is not the time to make more concessions, but the time to put more pressure on the ayatollahs.


Mr. Aznar is the former president of Spain.


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