National Security & Defense

How Obama Misled Us about the Concessions He Was Making to Iran

Ahmadinejad at the Natanz nuclear facility in 2008.

If what senior Iranian officials are saying is true, the Obama administration’s duplicity in explaining its nuclear negotiations with Iran is even more staggering than we realized.

In a new report, MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) reveals that, according to Iranian officials, the Obama administration initiated secret negotiations with Iran not after the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, but rather in 2011 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still Iran’s president.

That means the administration did not wait to reach out until Iran was governed by Rouhani, the purportedly “pragmatic” moderate the Obama administration contrasts with Iranian “hardliners” who supposedly oppose the Iran deal. It reached out when Ahmadinejad, an unapologetic “Death to America, death to Israel” hardliner, was running Iran’s government.

To be clear, these distinctions are nonsensical. In Iran, the president is not in charge; the president is subordinate to the nation’s sharia jurists, the chief of whom is “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As I observed last week, Khamenei is a hardliner through and through. So is Rouhani — a protégé of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s jihadist regime. Rouhani, a close friend and adviser of Khamenei, has been a staunch advocate of Iran’s nuclear program and a leader in crushing dissident protests. There is no meaningful difference between Iran in the Ahamdinejad era and in the Rouhani era.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration promoted the fiction that the election of Rouhani — who would not have been permitted to run had Khamenei objected — marked a hopeful Iranian turn toward moderation. This, we were to believe, was a worthy justification for engaging in direct negotiations with the regime on its nuclear program.

According to Supreme Leader Khamenei, however, Obama himself reached out to Khamenei in 2011, using the dictator of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, as his intermediary. The Iranian regime’s interpretation of what Qaboos told them was that the Americans “want to solve the nuclear issue and lift sanctions within six months, while recognizing Iran as a nuclear power.” It was on that basis, Khamenei claims, that he agreed.

Of course, negotiations were kept secret in the Ahmadinejad days because Obama was campaigning for a second term in office.

If this version of events is true, then the suggestion that the election of Rouhani marked a turning point is not just an absurdity offered by an administration predisposed to appeasement. It is cover for an initiative that was already well underway. Of course, this initiative was not openly spoken of in the Ahmadinejad days because Obama was campaigning for a second term in office.

Iranian officials also claim, according to the MEMRI report, that John Kerry was already playing a key role in negotiations in the pre-Rouhani stages — i.e., while Hillary Clinton was still secretary of state and Kerry, a key Obama ally, was still chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. The report relates that then-Senator Kerry, also using Oman as an intermediary, relayed a letter to the regime in Tehran “stating that America recognizes Iran’s rights regarding the enrichment cycle.”

If this were true, it would constitute a major betrayal. It has long been the position of the United States that recognition of an “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear power in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not translate into a right to any particular route to such power, in particular a right to enrich uranium. This American position has always been a major bone of contention for Iran. Indeed, Iran’s unyielding insistence on international recognition of a right to enrich is one of the primary reasons for several years of stalemate between Iran and the West, with severe sanctions leveled on Iran based on Security Council resolutions banning the country’s enrichment activities.

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The Obama administration has repeatedly signaled to Congress and the public that it was holding the line against a right to enrichment. In fact, as Henry Sokolski and Greg Jones of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center noted here at National Review when Obama announced the “interim agreement” with Iran in late 2013, the administration made a point of assuring that the interim agreement “does not concede that Iran has a right to enrich uranium.”

Sagely, Sokolski and Jones detected capitulation in the offing:

Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama claim that the U.S. has not recognized this right, but that’s just a technicality — he means “not yet.” The U.S. seems willing to grant Iran this right once the follow-on comprehensive solution is reached between the P5+1 (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran. In two separate places the interim agreement says, “This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme.” Note that the text says “would,” not “might” or “could.”

Now, if what Iranian officials are saying is true, we know that the Obama administration had already recognized an Iranian right to enrichment.

#related#There is, moreover, good reason to conclude that the Iranians are a reliable source on this point. Since the “right to enrichment” has been their top agenda item from the start, it was undoubtedly a key consideration in the regime’s decision to engage in the negotiations Obama was so anxious to have. Furthermore, Iran has been consistent in its public statements about this issue, while the Obama administration has been slippery to the point of embarrassment.

Obama’s capitulation is a national-security disaster. Not only will it inexorably arm the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with nuclear weapons. There is no conceding Iran’s right to enrich uranium without conceding every nation’s right to enrich uranium.

The president obsessed with eliminating nuclear weapons, and who can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, has succeeded in creating a nuclear-arms race that will empower the bad guys.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.

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