Shock, shock. Two days ago, the headlines were full of the majority building in the Senate for tightened sanctions on Iran. A 59-vote majority looked like becoming filibuster-proof, at the very least, if not veto-proof. (The latter requires 67 votes.)
As Benjamin Weinthal pointed out, the Senate’s concern is with the “massive loopholes” in President Obama’s non-deal Iran “deal.”
You may have thought that Iran agreed in November to restrict uranium enrichment to a purity level of no more than 5 percent, to dilute her stock of 20-percent-enriched uranium, and to put on hold the introduction of new centrifuge arrays. The Western media misleadingly portrayed what happened in November in just those terms. Western companies, along with various national governments, mounted a surge to resume business with Iran; Iranian oil exports spiked in December.
But Iran didn’t agree to those terms in November. Iran only signified in November that she was probably willing to keep talking about such an agreement. The outlines of the potential agreement – for which consideration Iran would get her financial assets unfrozen and sanctions partially lifted – were not too repulsive for Iran to contemplate continuing to talk about them.
Iran has shown up in Geneva a couple of times since, to continue the dialogue. This past week, however, the U.S. Senate got within one vote of being able to overcome a filibuster and pass a bill tightening sanctions, in the teeth of strenuous opposition from the Obama administration.
And presto, on 12 January, Iran agrees to implement the terms discussed in November: for a period of six months, and as a basis on which to negotiate further.
(At least, we think that’s what Iran has done. Last time this happened, the Iranians came out after Obama did his victory lap and said his claims were false.)
The sanctions relief will start on 20 January, the first day of the “deal’s” six-month term. But, as numerous commentators have pointed out over and over, Iran is not actually conceding anything in this “deal.” She is not dismantling her nuclear program, or rendering herself less capable of, or further from, being able to build a nuclear warhead.
The dangerous and questionable thing Iran is doing – enriching uranium – she will continue to do. Diluting, or “down-blending,” her 20-percent uranium is easily reversible – but Iran doesn’t even have to do that; all she has to do is enrich the 3.5-percent uranium, of which she will build up more and more during the next six months, to 20 percent. Or higher. She will not be divesting herself of the means to do that. She has it already. Diluting the 20-percent uranium is a meaningless gesture.
It is still the case that the Western powers are making a fatal concession by making an “agreement” under which Iran continues to enrich uranium. That was true in November and it is still true today. The West has given up that bargaining chip with this agreement, at least until there is a new occupant of the Oval Office. By then, it is easily possible that it will be too late.
The Senate has given it the old college try. But Iran had a sucker deal on the table, ready for preemptive acceptance at a moment’s notice, and apparently had a set of Western chumps ready to sign it. Now, we can synchronize watches for the “Munich” countdown.