U.S. negotiations with Iran will resume today, and Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to jump in on Sunday. News reports suggest that the administration believes an agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program is imminent — perhaps well before the end-of-March deadline set by the Obama administration.
But Reuters reported Thursday that according to new information from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iranian officials have “still not addressed specific issues that could feed suspicions it may have researched an atomic bomb.”
And the way the Obama administration has handled the negotiations guarantees that any agreement will be highly controversial. As talks with Tehran have progressed, the White House has decided to exclude two legitimately concerned parties, Israel and the U.S. Congress, from having a voice in the outcome.
In response to that misguided White House approach, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint March 3 session of Congress, where he is expected to set forth his government’s objections to the proposed agreement.
The White House, however, has made it clear that Mr. Netanyahu is unwelcome and has accused him of leaking distorted information about the administration’s plan. The administration has also said that it has deliberately not kept Israel informed about the negotiations.
But the failure to be candid with the Israeli government is foolish. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a compelling reason for concern about any agreement because it will define the threat from Iran to Israel, and Iran has repeatedly and uncompromisingly stated its desire to terminate Israel’s existence.
Similarly, the administration has rebuffed any involvement by Congress, even though Mr. Obama will need congressional approval to soften sanctions on Iran if an agreement is reached.
While few disagree that Iran has been on the brink of having a nuclear weapon since 2012, there is strong disagreement about the objectives of the negotiations and widespread concern that Iran will be able to frustrate any attempt at strict verification.
The accord seeks to extend to a year the length of time Iran needs to acquire enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) to make a nuclear weapon.
At present the “breakout time” for a bomb is estimated at one to two months.
Mr. Netanyahu insists that one year is not a sufficient buffer against Iranian ambitions. Congress is on record as demanding that Iran have zero nuclear capability. And until Mr. Obama stepped in, that was also the position of the United Nations.
Iran was able to reach its near-breakout capacity by cheating on previous agreements while stiff-arming U.N. demands that it stop.
Iran’s continuing refusal to answer questions from the IAEA about its research into nuclear weapons design does not inspire confidence.
The White House needs to be more realistic about Iran’s credibility, change its negotiating tactics and begin building the political and diplomatic support it will need for a substantive agreement.
But time is running short.