Since they can't find any evidence that Iran has actually engaged in any nuclear weapons program activities, they are instead using the "we can't prove they haven't, either" tactic to demand unprecedented levels of access to Iran's nuclear facilities...
As Alfred Adask pointed out in our weekly conversation on "Financial Survival" this week, the non-stop round-the-clock coverage of the Greek crisis in the news media the past few weeks has effectively obscured some other pressing issues from gaining much attention. One of those issues is the possible meltdown of the framework agreement on the Iranian nuclear program that was reached in April and announced with much fanfare, ballyhoo and fear porn.
Wait, Iran has a nuclear program?
Well hopefully you knew about this already, but in case you didn't: yes, the Iranians have a nuclear program. Any guesses where it came from? That's right, the United States! Back in 1957 the US signed an atomic cooperation agreement with Iran as part of their "Atoms for Peace" program, which was an international psychological operation program to destroy the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons by familiarizing the world with nuclear technology. Ten years later Tehran opened its nuclear research center featuring a 5 Megawatt nuclear research reactor supplied by (you guessed it) Uncle Sam.
From those early (American-supplied) seeds the Iranian nuclear program developed across dozens of sites including fuel enrichment facilities, uranium mines, research centers and Bushehr, a 1000 Megawatt nuclear power plant that came online in 2011.
So? Lots of countries have a nuclear program.
Good point. But not all countries are Iran. Iran is a large, modern, industrialized nation situated at a geostrategic nexus point connecting the Middle East to Central Asia and controlling the valuable Straits of Hormuz, a Persian Gulf chokepoint which serves as a shipping route for 20% of the world's oil supply. It is also one of only two officially Shia countries in the world. As a result Iran has powerful enemies, including regional rivals like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Sunni rivals like the Saudi/Turk/Gulf State alliance that is currently funding and supplying ISIS against Syria, and, of course, Israel and the United States. Accordingly, Iran's nuclear program has come under particular scrutiny from a number of powerful regional actors.
Is it dangerous?
Not according to the IAEA, which has repeatedly confirmed that there is no evidence that Iran has diverted any nuclear material into any military program. And not according to the 16 US intelligence agencies that produced a national intelligence estimate in 2011 concluding Iran was not trying to build a nuclear bomb. And not even according to Mossad, which contradicted Netanyahu's infamous 2012 presentation to the UN by confirming in leaked cables that Iran was "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons." In fact, the IAEA is now concerned that a recently-revealed CIA operation to plant evidence of nuclear weapons involvement on Iran might produce a false assessment of the country's nuclear "threat."
This is perhaps not surprising since Iran has been one of the staunchest opponents of nuclear weapons in the region for decades, first proposing a Middle-East Nuclear Free Weapon Zone in 1974 that has been repeatedly rejected by (surprise, surprise) Israel and the US. It is also unsurprising that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program given that Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa in 2005 declaring that "the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that Iran shall never acquire these weapons."
Since they can't find any evidence that Iran has actually engaged in any nuclear weapons program activities, they are instead using the "we can't prove they haven't, either" tactic to demand unprecedented levels of access to Iran's nuclear facilities and unprecedented levels of control over their enrichment and stockpiling of nuclear materials.
So what was the framework agreement about?
The agreement reached in April between Iran and the "P5+1" (France, Germany, the UK, China, Russia and the United States) secured a number of unprecedented concessions from Iran over its nuclear program in return for the promise of an easing on the crippling (and illegal) sanctions that have been placed on it as a result of the nuclear wrangling, including:
Why are the negotiations falling apart now?
There were problems right from the get-go, with the Iranians insisting that the sanctions would be lifted as soon as the final agreement was signed and the US demurring that sanctions would be lifted only in stages after demonstrated compliance. Now that disagreement appears to be one of the sticking points in the final agreement, with Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei stating in a televised address on Tuesday night that "All financial and economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. Congress or the U.S. government should be lifted immediately when we sign a nuclear agreement." Sticking points also remain on "virtually everything" regarding the technical implementation of the deal and its inspection and enforcement regimes, leading to a main document that negotiators describe as "a patchwork of text and dozens of blank spaces because of stubborn disagreement on up to 10 elements crucial to any deal."
Who wants the deal to fail?
Primarily and most obviously Israel, which has been a staunch and vocal opponent of the entire negotiation process and a critic of the framework agreement reached in April. By extension, the gaggle of Congress critters in Israel's pocket are also looking to scuttle the deal, using all the familiar fire-and-brimstone rhetoric to describe the consequences of allowing Iran to continue its program.
Saudi Arabia also wants the deal to fail, but not simply because Iran is a political and religious rival. The Saudis are also concerned about what will happen to the oil markets if Iranian oil comes back online with the lifting sanctions. OPEC is already falling apart over the recent plunge in oil prices, with member nations pumping to capacity in order to maintain revenues and market share, but an Iranian resurgence on the world oil market might be the final nail in OPEC's coffin. Iran has already pledged to begin pumping an extra million barrels a day if the sanctions are lifted, threatening to completely unhinge the OPEC cartel's attempts to artificially limit supplies and maintain the price gains that have been made in recent months.
Who wants the deal to succeed?
The Iranians, obviously (for the most part). They may not be happy with the prospect of having heavily-biased IAEA inspectors crawling all over the country looking for (or planting evidence of) potential agreement violations, but the prospect of easing economic sanctions is a very big carrot toward reaching an agreement.
Certain elements of the US oligarchy are in favor of the deal, too, despite Israel's disapproval. This seems to be part of the ongoing quiet war between the US and Saudi Arabia that we've noted before in these pages.
Finally the western oiligarchy has a not-so-hidden interest in seeing the deal through to its conclusion. The usual gaggle of oil multinationals are already salivating over the prospect of getting their claws into the ready and waiting Iranian oil and gas fields.
What will happen if no deal is reached by June 30th?
Nothing. There is no particular reason why the deal has to be reached by that date; it was an arbitrarily chosen deadline for completion of the final agreement. As such, it can (and likely will) come and go with much fanfare and hand-wringing, but little actual consequence. If there is anything resembling a deadline here, it is July 8th. If a deal is reached by then, U.S. Congress only has 30 days to review it before Obama could begin lifting sanctions. If the deal is struck after that date the review window stretches to 60 days, leaving more time for the deal to fall apart before it gets underway. So look for the June 30th deadline to come and go but things to get serious before July 8th.
Will a deal be reached?
I'm not a fortune teller, but my money is on yes. The final agreement may not be as sweeping or definitive as what the framework proposed, but both sides have been invested too much in championing the deal to let it die completely. The real question is whether the deal will actually be implemented, and if so what Israel and/or Saudi Arabia (with US support) might do to stop it dead in its tracks before it gets underway. Stay tuned...