The United States Must not Cease to be Vigilant about Iran

It is a truth that should be acknowledged by the United States and all democratic countries that a nuclear Iran will mean the destruction of the State of Israel and a threat to the rest of the world. No doubt it is a desirable principle to attempt to reconcile national differences by negotiation. But not all agreements are worth the price paid.

It comes as no small surprise that in the negotiations with Iran in Geneva the United States together with five other countries, the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, should have persisted in a formula that would have ended in an undesirable compromise unlikely to limit the threat of Iranian aggression. The formula appeared simple: Iran would freeze its nuclear program in return for the international loosening of sanctions against it. However, this reverses the reality that it is the present sanctions, and possibly future tougher ones, that have made Iran seem more agreeable to halt or dismantle its nuclear facilities and pursuit of a weapons program.

Is it naïve to doubt the intentions of Iran? In spite of the charm offensive in New York of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, the nature of the Iranian regime, with its continuing support of the brutal President Assad in Syria and the terrorist Hezbollah with supplies and advisers do not make it a candidate for the next Nobel Peace Prize. The draft negotiations were not likely to improve relations between the U.S. and Iran. Nor did they take account of the Iran's Parchin military base southeast of Tehran at which weapons research continues.

Fortunately, a hasty, undesirable agreement in Geneva was blocked partly by French arguments which insisted as a minimum on restrictions on Iran's heavy water plant in Arak that can produce plutonium, and partly, perhaps largely, because of Iranian intransigence.

The contemplated deal would have entailed the promise by Iran that it would not enrich its nuclear enrichment capabilities to more than 3.5 per cent as part of an interim agreement. In return, the international economic sanctions against Iran, on its oil operation and its currency, that have had considerable success, would be eased. Because of the sanctions the Iranian economy was reduced by some 5 per cent last year. Iran's daily crude oil sales have been reduced by 60 per cent in the last two years.

It is unlikely that the proposed agreement would eliminate the threat of Iran continuing its development of a nuclear weapon. Iran has insisted on its right to develop enriched uranium, the path to nuclear fuel for both power plants and for weapons. At a very minimum, Iran should have agreed to stop any more centrifuges and should allow international inspectors to ensure that it does so. In addition, economic sanctions should be kept in place until those inspectors declare it has been done. Since Iran's currency reserves held abroad amount to about $70-80 billion the imposition of sanctions is easy to manage.

The position of the U.S. appears naïve. Secretary Kerry has said that with good work and good faith the "goal" can be secured. Where is the "good faith" of Iran? Can it be trusted to give and especially to abide by assurances of its willingness to forego production of a weapon? In the past the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran was not complying with international agreements to inspect facilities. It is unlikely that Supreme Leader Khamenei is likely now to forgo Iran's ambition of nuclear capability. The country already has low-grade uranium as a result of its large number of centrifuges, which are the path to nuclear success.

The eager pursuit of Iran by Kerry and others is all too reminiscent of events concerning Nazi Germany, especially the infamous 1938 Munich agreement, now the symbol of inherent appeasement. Before the resumption of talks, expected on November 20, 2013, Kerry might ponder the remark attributed to Winston Churchill concerning British government policy: "the government had to choose between war and shame. It chose shame. They will get war too."

France had been prepared to act against President Assad in Syria because of his use of chemical weapons, but was prevented by the unwillingness and caution of the British Parliament and President Obama. France has shown that firmness works in Mali last year and now in Geneva. As a result of France's expressed insistence that there be more controls on the reactor at Arak, Iran has agreed to allow inspection of its facility though it insists on agreeing to the details of the inspection. Iran claims it wants to produce isotopes for medical and agricultural purposes at Arak. Yet the common belief is that Arak if and when operational can produce enough plutonium to make two bombs a year.

Kerry, who is not loath to remind us of his military service in Vietnam, should take account of firmness shown both by France and by Israel in defense against aggression. Since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, the Israel response in November 2012 to the ballistic fire from the Gaza Strip by Hamas, similar attacks have almost stopped. Israel had experienced 1400 rockets fired against its civilians by groups in Gaza with hundreds more intercepted by its Iron Dome system. After that Operation, Israel has had to deal with only 35 incidents of rocket fire.

The main problem for western countries, Saudi Arabia, and Israel is not simply the fear of a belligerent Islamic Iran, but the lack of faith, almost a crisis of faith, about the willingness of the Obama administration, to stand firm. Contrary to what might be expected, reports suggest that Obama is easing the restrictions on Iran through manipulations by the U.S. Treasury Department that reduce the isolation of Iran's banks from the global financial sector that makes international commerce possible.

It is not constructive policy that Kerry's immediate concern seems to be not Iran's nuclear facilities but Israel settlements, "illegitimate" in his words, and the presence of the IDF in the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not alone in regarding the contemplated agreement as a "very, very, bad deal." Clearly Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, and probably France think the same even though their criticism is more private and their language more restrained.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.

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