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Good, Bad, and Ugly in Nuclear Talks with Iran

Good, Bad, and Ugly in Nuclear Talks with Iran

President Barack Obama considers himself like the good guy in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He captures the bad guy, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and they cut a nuclear deal; but before they split the loot — Nobel Prizes — the "Ugly," Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, kills the deal, dashing for the bomb — breakout. Fanciful? Hardly!

A charm offensive by Rouhani creates the fallacy of a good-guy image to Obama. Khamenei uses Rouhani’s image to pursue a religious deception tactic, taqiyya, in talks with the Great Satan, hoodwinking Obama to include sanctions relief without additional sanctions in the nuclear accord.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is correct: Congress would support Obama’s aim of verifiable termination of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Menendez also would like a "diplomatic insurance policy" to strengthen Obama’s hand via passage of S.1881, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. Co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the proposed legislation contains a trigger, Section 301(b). It applies if there were no subsequent accord because of Iranian evasion six months after the Jan. 22 start of the joint action plan.

Obama’s approach to Iranian noncompliance assumes Congress could still pass a bill that contained sanctions, but his response would be to delay implementation because detection of noncompliance is no guarantee of follow-on punitive actions.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) describes steps for Iran between now and July 2014 to meet its obligations under the accord. They include closure of the underground uranium enrichment facility in Qom, which cannot be inspected as easily as the one at Natanz; mothballing about 15,000 centrifuges, leaving "only" 4,000 and making it difficult for Iran to break out; and conversion of Arak’s heavy-water reactor into a light-water facility.

The Iranian regime’s statements on implementation of the November accord contrast with the ISIS study. The agreement indicates surrender of the West to Iran; Tehran is working on new generations of centrifuges; concessions can be reversed in a day; the heavy-water reactor at Arak must remain a heavy-water facility; and Iran will not "under any circumstances" agree to destroy centrifuges. The White House has not countered such claims.

In earlier negotiations, Rouhani boasted of having "duped" the West, as a March 5, 2006, Sunday Telegraph headline put it: While talks took place in Tehran with the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany), Iran was able to complete installation of equipment for conversion of uranium ore into gas, which was necessary before enriching the gas. But the West assumed he was making a concession.

In December, when Iranian diplomats threatened to walk out and then its experts did walk out of technical talks in Vienna, Tehran ordered them back to resume negotiations and even accelerated diplomatic negotiations in Geneva, which culminated in the joint action plan.

Tehran received a humongous concession on its so-called "right" to enrich uranium on its own soil, which had been denied by the U.N. Security Council. The council had demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment-related activities in Resolution 1696, adopted in July 2006. Tehran’s response now is that the joint action plan makes that binding resolution moot; again, the Obama administration has not effectively refuted another claim.

Meanwhile, there is an intelligence duel. The United States wants to assess Iran’s actions, intentions, and capabilities to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. Tehran desires to conceal them. This duel brings the "Ugly" into play. Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seek to destroy human-source intelligence capabilities of the main Iranian resistance organization that rejects clerical rule — the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has made over 120 revelations of suspect nuclear activities by the regime.

I published these NCRI revelations obtained from Camp Ashraf, Iraq, during 2008 and from Paris in 2012. The major revelations were partly validated via independent means by ISIS and acknowledged by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There is a need for such human-source intel as lead information to compare with data obtained using other sources. Now it is time for Washington to support the Iranian dissidents in Iraq so Baghdad and Tehran do not destroy this valuable source of human intelligence about adherence of Iran to the nuclear deal.

*By bringing Iranian dissidents from Iraq to America, research suggests they can help U.S. intelligence monitor Iran’s compliance with the Geneva accord of November 2013. From the perspective of U.S. interests, this idea is as important to intelligence as the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act is in providing insurance of contingent sanctions in case the Geneva deal fails to result in a permanent accord by July because of Iran’s evasions.

Raymond Tanter served on the National Security Council staff in Ronald Reagan’s administration and is professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. His latest book is Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents.

*Editor’s note (Jan. 31, 2014): The final paragraph of this post was revised to delete reference to any specific piece of legislation.