Obama Administration Seeks to Secure Iran Deal
Meeting of signatories to nuclear deal presents opportunity to shore up support for one of president’s key foreign-policy legacies; Trump has called agreement ‘horrible’
BRUSSELS—U.S., European and Iranian officials meet Tuesday in Vienna, a last opportunity for the Obama administration to bolster the Iranian nuclear agreement along with its partners before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
The officials are meeting under the aegis of the so-called Joint Commission, comprised of representatives of Iran and the six world powers who negotiated the July 2015 nuclear deal. The commission oversees the implementation of the accord and arbitrates disputes among the signatories.
In recent months, the Commission has approved decisions to exempt some Iranian nuclear material from the country’s stockpile limits and sought to shore up the agreement with measures to ensure Iran doesn’t breach the terms of the nuclear accord by exceeding caps on material such as uranium and heavy water.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked the accord, a key foreign-policy legacy of the Obama administration. After the Nov. 8 election, U.S. officials said they were looking for ways to help secure the agreement.
Among the issues set for discussion Tuesday are Iranian complaints about the decision last month by U.S. Congress to extend nonnuclear U.S. sanctions on Tehran, according to diplomats.
The meeting may also address the decision by the six powers to allow Iran to import large amounts of natural uranium. On Monday, Western diplomats confirmed that the U.S. had backed a request by Russia to export more than 100 tons of natural uranium to Iran. A second export request by Kazakhstan is pending, they said.
Despite reservations in some European capitals, the decision to approve the Russian uranium export request was supported by the U.S. administration, according to several Western diplomats. It must still be confirmed by the United Nations Security Council.
In its natural form, uranium isn’t useful in a nuclear program, but it can be enriched to produce fuel for a nuclear weapon. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that “any sort of uranium that’s held by the Iranian government will be subject to very strict limits.”
U.S. officials say Iran could use the uranium from Russia to fuel its nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Iran was required to submit plans for use of the material, which will be monitored, the officials say, for the next 25 years.
Under the nuclear deal, Iran is limited to a stockpile of low-enriched uranium of 300 kilograms, about 660 pounds, for the next 15 years—a key part of the deal designed to ensure that until at least 2026, it will take Iran over a year to accumulate enough material for a nuclear weapon.
Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program is for purely civilian purposes.
Iran received shipments of natural uranium before the agreement was fully implemented in January 2016. Those transfers, mandated by the 2015 accord, came after Iran to ship enriched uranium out of the country. Additional imports of natural uranium were neither ruled out nor clearly permitted, requiring Iran to make a specific request to the Joint Commission’s procurement group.
While natural uranium can’t be used directly in a nuclear program, the material would give Iran, if it decided to repudiate the nuclear agreement, an additional supply of ready-to-use material that it could quickly enrich into nuclear fuel. Iran still has the technology, including thousands of centrifuges, to purify the uranium into more dangerous forms.
France and Britain, two signatories of the accord, raised concerns about the uranium exports during weekslong discussions over the Russian export request, according to three diplomats.
Officials pressed for more details on the destination of the material and where it would be stored. Additional explanations, they said, were needed partly because Iran has its own uranium mines.
“We also wanted to know why they needed it,” one of the diplomats said.
While French officials took a hawkish line both during the nuclear talks and the deal’s implementation, several people involved in the discussions said it was the U.K. that had become increasingly skeptical in recent months.
However, neither Britain nor France, which are both represented on the group that makes recommendations on Iran’s procurement requests, blocked Russia’s export request. Moscow’s support will also be needed to approve the Kazakh uranium delivery.
Mr. Trump hasn’t made clear since his election victory how he specifically plans to approach the Iranian nuclear deal. While he frequently denounced the agreement during the presidential campaign, his only public mention of it since the November vote was in a tweet on Israel in which he labeled it “horrible.”
—Carol E. Lee contributed to this article.
November 30, 2016
The Obama legacy
Nothing sums up the Obama legacy better than this quote from Edward Luce of the Financial Times:
It will be as if Mr Obama was never here.
Can there be a more concise judgment?
History will remember Barack Obama as the first black president. Beyond that, what else? His attempt to transform the nation worsened economic and social conditions. He transformed his own party to the point where it may not survive.
Mr. Luce explained what will occur domestically:
The Obama erasure will go far deeper than undoing domestic laws, or foreign deals. Mr Trump will repeal Obamacare, or alter it beyond recognition. He will “keep an open mind” about whether to pull the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change and quite probably blow up the US-Iran nuclear deal.
The American people demanded the destruction of Obamaism. In order to survive, the Democratic Party will disown their Pied Piper, eventually abhorring his policies more than conservatives.
Despite his overall judgment, Mr. Luce's assessment of Barack Obama is more positive and gracious than mine:
Here was a highly intelligent leader, and a fundamentally decent one, who strived to make the case for international co-operation to a world that was not really listening.
… But the world’s attention has wandered. People are highly fearful — and rightly so.
Such an assessment is flattering and fawning in these respects:
- The "highly intelligent leader" might be described as painfully ignorant of how the world works or a committed ideologue to a system that always fails. Given Obama's educational opportunities, stupidity rather than ignorance seems appropriate.
- The "fundamentally decent one" routinely lied to the American people in order to pass harmful policies. He illegally utilized the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service for political purposes and engaged in cover-ups (gun-running to Mexico, Benghazi, etc.) to protect himself.
- Obama's approach to governance was dictatorial. He went around Congress with executive orders, many of which were overturned by the courts. He famously terminated at least one discussion with: "I won, you lost."
If Obama is to be more than a William Henry Harrison footnote in history, it will be as a result of future events.
Mr Luce states:
The global role that Mr Obama inherited – and tried, to some degree, to uphold – is now in tatters.
If legacies can be achieved via future disasters, Mr. Obama still has a chance. His feckless "lead from behind" foreign policy leaves the world vulnerable to conflict. Like his domestic policies, most international agreements were made without congressional approval.
If the world unravels, Mr. Obama has the potential to become history's next Sir Edward Grey.
Obama is young for an ex-president. What he does with this time will influence history's assessment. That may not be a positive.
Obama's narcissism and need for attention will make it difficult to leave the stage. As a media favorite, he will always have a platform. As an ex-president, even a failed one, he may make positive contributions. These should be welcomed.
If Obama's need for the stage outweighs his positive contributions, he will become a public nuisance. Past behavior suggests that this should be expected. Obama is likely to try to become the Community Organizer of The World. History is unlikely to look kindly on such an effort.
Monty Pelerin blogs on politics, economics and investing at www.economicnoise.com.