Aipac’s Tortured Role in Iran Nuclear Talks: Tear Down Deal, While Appearing to Support It
The Israel Lobby likes to say (and hear members of Congress saying it as well) that there isn’t an inch of daylight between Israel and U.S. political leaders. And that’s generally so. But I’ve just read a memo produced by Aipac which diverges from the Israeli government’s absolutist approach to Iranian nukes. Netanyahu’s position is that Iran must not have any enrichment capacity. Essentially, it must renounce its entire nuclear program.
This memo takes a different view:
Now that the P5+1 has inked an initial agreement with Iran, America must not only ensure full Iranian compliance but also insist that any final deal deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability.
…Congress has provided the leverage to spur Iran to seek talks; now it must press the administration to negotiate a verifiable agreement that will prevent Iran from ever building nuclear weapons.
Interestingly, this is precisely the Obama administration position. And the divergence between these two positions has caused no end of heartburn between Bibi and Barack. So why does Aipac take the president’s point of view on this and not Israel’s?
There are a number of reasons: first, because while Aipac may be many bad things, it isn’t stupid. It knows that polls show Americans support the Geneva agreement by a two to one margin. Though I haven’t heard of any polls of Jewish opinion, my strong suspicion is that American Jews support it in comparable numbers. So Aipac figures: why rock the boat?
They’ve just been stung by Congress and the president’s refusal to endorse military action against Syria. They don’t want to go down that road again. One thing that is very important to the Israel Lobby group is to be a winner. It hates to lose. It always wants to ensure that Israel’s “enemies” in Congress are the losers, but never Aipac itself.
Further, the group is trying to take a longer-term view. It has six months either to turn American opinion against the deal or to watch as it unravels. It must believe it’s better than even money that the signatories will find a fly in the ointment that will cause the agreement to collapse. Either the Iranians will be resistant or the French will develop a backbone and come to the rescue; or a terrorist attack will derail the process.
Of one thing you can be sure: Aipac is not in disagreement with the Israelis. Aipac wants precisely what Israel wants: not just an end to Iran’s nuclear program, but regime change. The difference between the two is that Israel doesn’t sugar-coat its position, while Aipac finely calibrates its agenda according to which way the political winds are blowing. As of now, they’re not blowing Israel’s way.
In fact, the DC Lobby organization wants to have it both ways. It wants to agree with the administration that the essential goal is stopping an Iranian bomb. But it also wants to keep in its back pocket the chance for advancing Israel’s demand for no nuclear enrichment:
The interim agreement does not require that Iran come into compliance with six mandatory U.N. Security Council resolutions, which demand Iran suspend all enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water activity…
Here, Aipac infers that the mere fact of Iran having any enrichment capability gives it a path toward a bomb:
Any final agreement must deny Iran both uranium and plutonium paths to develop nuclear weapons.
Any final deal will likely preclude Iran from developing nukes, but it will not shut down its uranium enrichment. No pragmatic observer of this process believes this will happen. So even the intimation that you support shutting down this aspect of Iran’s program means you really support Israel’s absolutist position–you’re just too slick or frightened to say it outright.
Aipac does contradict the administration position in one significant way: it endorses ever more draconian sanctions against Iran. Though it understands this brings it into conflict with the President, it couches its position as supporting his goals: to bring Iran to the table and make it more willing to give up its supposed goal of building nukes.
This memo doesn’t mention that if the Lobby wins and sanctions worsen, the current official U.S. policy of reaching a deal with Iran will be dead. That would leave Aipac as the last man standing in the debate. A diplomatic solution will be gone and the only thing remaining will be the military option–Israel and the Lobby’s preferred course.
There are several problematic passages in the memo. Here it outright distorts the agreement:
Iran will retain all of its nuclear material and will be able to continue the research and development aspects of its program….The agreement imposes no restrictions on Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts…
This is actually not true. Iran has a large amount of 20% enriched uranium. Under the deal, a significant portion of it would be reprocessed so that it could not be used as part of any weapons-making process. This is extremely important since Iran’s 20% enriched material is what would be needed to make a bomb. Without that, it can’t proceed toward nuclearization.
The willful misunderstanding of the Geneva protocol continues here:
Iran thus far has denied inspectors access to key facilities, such as Parchin, where the IAEA suspects nuclear weapons-related experiments have been conducted.
The deal actually gives inspectors access to Iran’s most secret facility, Fordo, and also gives them access to the heavy water reactor at Arak. These are both facilities that have been largely or wholly off-limits to the IAEA.
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Turkey waving the white flag on Syria?
○ Turkish, Iranian intelligence agencies work in “close collaboration”
○ JPost – Turkish foreign minister says Iran and Turkey are united for regional stability
20% enriched uranium isn’t weapons grade of itself, but
it’s a step closer to it than 5% enriched uranium.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weapons-grade Very little of the
reporting that I have seen actually manages to convey this quite
important distinction. 80% enriched uranium might do for the outer
layer of a composite core that had a small quantity of weapons
grade plutonium in the centre, because plutonium fission has a
reasonably high probability of producing the occasional neutron
with enough energy to fission either 238 or U235. Weapons grade
plutonium is a tricky one, and you don’t get much by using too
highly enriched uranium in your reactors. All the fuss about
nuclear weapons is beside the point if Iran has the means to
produce significant amounts of persistent nerve gases like VX, but
precisely because the industrial base for a nuclear weapons
programme is so big and so distinctive, it makes a much better
bargaining chip. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the agreement
about medium range rocket development, which could be used to
deliver non-nuclear WMD, and perhaps concerns should be focused
there rather than on the enrichment issue, which I’ve long felt to
be a bit theatrical.
First and foremost, I want to say a Happy Thanksgiving to anyone so inclined…
Second, I’ve spend the past week reading this deal for myself and ignoring the spin.
“Iran has a large amount of 20% enriched uranium. Under the deal, a significant portion of it would be reprocessed so that it could not be used as part of any weapons-making process. This is extremely important since Iran’s 20% enriched material is what would be needed to make a bomb. Without that, it can’t proceed toward nuclearization.”
The deal does call for them to deplete its 20% enriched uranium stockpiled down to 5% (still more than needed for peaceful civilian nuclear power facility) but it takes more than 20% enriched uranium for a bomb. The 20% number is key b/c the lengthiest and most difficult part of enriching uranium takes place b/w 3.5% and 20%. The decision to allow them 5% is somewhat curious as it gives them a leg up vs. 3.5% (that 1.5% is significant). IF (that’s a huge if) Iran’s holds up its end of the deal, all this has done is set them back 30-90 days but in no way has it stopped them from having the ability proceed with weaponization. This deal was about buy time. We are gambling that we can learn a ton about the Iranian nuclear breakout capability in the six months. On the other hand, Iran essentially gave up nothing and made $7b…. mo wonder they are happy.
The other parties also essentially gave up nothing, as the 7 billion was Iran’s own money.
@ Ari Greenfield: Saying that Iran has the ability to “proceed with weaponization” is about as precise as saying that I’d like to be a billionaire. Sure I would, but how will I make it happen?
In short, you’re talking about enriching uranium. That in itself doesn’t allow you ‘weaponize.’ There are thousands of other things that have to accompany that including producing a missile & warhead that can carry the bomb, which Iran hasn’t done yet. It’s important that language is precise here so that we don’t get confused or lapse into errors.
As I indicated, though I don’t know what happened to my paragraph breaks, which were there when I typed, putting 5% enriched uranium into a reactor may actually reduce the chances of getting weapons grade plutonium out. Otherwise I can’t see how it’s supposed to be desirable either.
The longer fuel rods are left in the reactor, the more Pu240 they end up containing and that cannot be removed from the Pu239 afterwards. The UK’s Magnox reactors supposedly did not use enriched fuel at all,this and the ability to remove a few rods while the reactor was running (after a very brief burn) was key to their ability to produce plutonium that was not just weapons grade (less than 7% Pu240 as opposed to 93% Pu239) but which met a higher standard of less than 3% Pu240, needed to reduce the radioactivity of warheads that were due to be stored on ships and submarines in close proximity to crews for extended periods of time. Much of the UK’s weapons grade uranium was obtained by swapping this naval-grade plutonium with the Americans, who had plenty of weapons grade material suitable for making air-force bombs normally stored in bunkers well away from where servicemen lived, but not very much of the very clean stuff.
Weapons grade plutonium is safer to handle than non-weapons grade, and naval grade is safer still.
So, if Iran’s reactors are set up to use 5% enriched uranium with a long burn-up time, it would be very tricky to make them produce weapons grade plutonium without shutting them down and changing the setup.
So I think the 5% “concession” is to make it possible for the Iranians to run their power stations in a way which makes the production of weapons grade plutonium much less likely, but I can see why the diplomats wouldn’t have spelled that out in so many words.
Netanyahu has obvious reasons for his constant belaboring the Iran “enrichment” issue meanwhile, it’s “business as usual” in the West Bank and Gaza is still under siege.
Tomorrow Nov 30, 2013 – hundreds of Palestinian children will gather to launch nearly 200 mini arks into the se to challenge the Israel blockade.
Nov 30, 2013 – Day of Rage against the Prawer Plan
I know this isn’t on the topic of Iran – bit since Iran serves as a distraction to Netanyahu from issues on his doorstep, I want to mention it. I realize, you already are appraised, but I wanted to post anyway.
Netanyahu to Obama: ‘Of course I support talks for a two-state solution.’
Netanyahu to Kerry: ‘Sure, I’ll delay the next trench of 20,000 settler homes.’
Remember Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in 2000? Speaking of the third intifada …
Once again we run the risk of unilateral Israeli military to avert the risk of peace breaking out.
Perhaps it is time again to revive the campaig from 2012 that asks folks to pledge to BOYCOTT ISRAEL IF IT BOMBS IRAN:
Please sign the pledge and spread the word.