AP confirms: U.S. nuke deal to allow Iran 6,000 centrifuges for continued uranium enrichment

So the rumors last month were true: Six thousand centrifuges will continue to spin, which is supposedly a great victory for the U.S. since it would mean — assuming Iran isn’t covertly operating even more centrifuges under the UN’s nose — that Iran would need a solid year to “break out” and refine enough uranium to power a nuclear bomb. Which means Barack Obama would have a year to prepare and execute a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities to stop them.

Oh, minor footnote: Barack Obama’s never going to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Ever. And both sides understand that.

[Six thousand is] less than the 10,000 such machines Tehran now runs, yet substantially more than the 500 to 1,500 that Washington originally wanted as a ceiling. Only a year ago, U.S. officials floated 4,000 as a possible compromise…

It’s unclear how complete the draft agreement is. Iran’s deeply buried underground enrichment plant remains a problem, officials said, with Washington demanding the facility be repurposed and Tehran insisting it be able to run hundreds of centrifuges there. Iran says it wants to use the machines for scientific research; the Americans fear they could be quickly retooled for enrichment…

Any March framework agreement is unlikely to constrain Iran’s missile program, which the United States believes may ultimately be aimed at creating delivery systems for nuclear warheads. Diplomats say that as the talks move to deadline, the Iranians continue to insist that missile curbs are not up for discussion…

After the deal expires [in 15-20 years], Iran could theoretically ramp up enrichment to whatever level or volume it wants.

So Iran gets to keep enriching, maybe gets to keep using its heavily fortified Fordow facility, gets to keep perfecting its ICBMs while all of this is happening, and then is free to get crazy with the nuclear cheez whiz in 15 years — and amid all this, a variety of American and international sanctions would be gradually relaxed. In return for all that, the U.S. gets a handful of magic beans. Pet the Gatestone Institute, even the French — the French! — think Obama’s a sucker who’s unwittingly kickstarting a nuclear panic among the Middle East’s Sunni powers. The same guy who’s spent years talking up “nuclear zero” may end up leaving a legacy of Islamic states arming themselves to the teeth with civilization-destroying bombs:

[French Foreign Minister Laurent] Fabius himself, in a meeting last week, made extremely clear his deep distrust (“contempt, really,” one MP says) of both John Kerry and Barack Obama. Another of the group quotes Fabius as saying: “The United States was really ready to sign just about anything with the Iranians,” before explaining that he himself had sent out, mid-February, a number of French ‘counter-proposals’ to the State Department and White House, in order to prevent an agreement too imbalanced in favor of Iran…

French diplomats are no angels, and they haven’t suddenly turned 180 degrees from their usual attitude of reflexive dislike toward Israel. They worry, however, that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, every other local Middle East power will want them. Among their worst nightmares is a situation in which Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia join the Dr. Strangelove club. French diplomats may not like Israel, but they do not believe Israelis would use a nuclear device except in a truly Armageddon situation for Israel. As for Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Turkey going nuclear, however, they see terrifying possibilities: irresponsible leaders, or some ISIS-type terrorist outfit, could actually use them. In other words, even if they would never express it as clearly as that, they see Israelis as “like us,” but others potentially as madmen.

I said most of what I had to say about this in this post but let me reemphasize an obvious point: All this is, really, is a punt. Obama’s stuck between two unpalatable options, bombing Iran and starting (or escalating) a hot war across at least three countries in the region, namely, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, or doing nothing and being known to history as the Man Who Let Iran Get the Bomb. A 15-year deal with sunset provisions is as explicit an attempt as you can get to push the ultimate disposition of Iran’s nuke program onto some future president. Maybe the mullahs will be deposed by then and the problem will solve itself (although it’s naive to think even a friendlier regime in Tehran will be willing to capitulate on enrichment). Maybe the U.S. will have developed new weapons by then, cyber or otherwise, that will permit a more effective attack on Iran’s facilities than we’re capable of right now. Maybe the Israelis will figure something out. Or maybe the status quo will hold, more or less, and President Hillary or President Jeb or whoever will have to make the sort of tough decision that Obama’s incapable of making. Whatever the answer, it won’t be his problem anymore. Unless of course Iran violates the agreement before January 2017. And why would they do that and risk alienating O when he’s busy reorienting America’s entire Middle East policy towards detente with the Shiite menace?

Two other points here. One: After all the Democratic screeching about Tom Cotton’s unprecedented, historic, near-treasonous Logan-Act-smashing letter to Iran, it did squat to disrupt the deal. And that was predictable, of course, since Cotton’s letter said nothing that Iran didn’t already know. It was cheap left-wing demagoguery from the word go, designed to bolster a guy whose committed the sort of sins against separation of powers that would have liberals demanding impeachment if a Republican had committed them. Take nothing these people say seriously. Two: All lefty defenses of doing a deal with Iran boil down to “the mullahs are rational.” Even if the worst occurs and they build a bomb on the sly — a prospect Obama’s Democratic supporters are clearly already preparing for rhetorically — it’s not a huge deal because Iran’s rulers haven’t made any suicidal moves to date. They didn’t fight to the bitter end against Saddam in the 80s, they preferred Shiite proxies and arms shipments to direct battlefield confrontation with the U.S. in Iraq — they know their limitations, so they won’t do anything dramatic with Israel knowing the scale of nuclear retaliation that awaits. The problem with that defense is that it assumes that things can’t get worse in Iran; the current regime is the craziest Iran is capable of, supposedly, and since they’re kinda sorta rational, that means there’s no worst-case scenario. Rule one of Middle Eastern regime change, though, is that things can always get worse (and usually do). In fact, the left’s criticism of Cotton’s letter tacitly acknowledges it: Cotton’s letter allowed “hardline” opponents of the nuclear deal in Iran’s parliament to proclaim that the negotiations were doomed and shouldn’t continue. What happens if Khamenei dies and one of those “hardliners” ascends the throne? Lefties and righties alike recognize what a nuclear clusterfark it would be if Pakistan’s leadership was deposed by something more Taliban-esque. We all understand it’d be a terrible idea to let the Saudi royals have the bomb knowing what’s waiting in the wings to replace them. What if something similar happened in Iran, with the fanatics di tutti fanatics within the regime suddenly inheriting a supply of highly enriched uranium? Why does Iran get such a weird benefit of the doubt as to its enduring stability and rationality?

Update: Ah, here’s a nice catch by Jeff Dunetz. If Iran’s nuclear production is all about supplying power plants, why on earth would they settle for only a few thousand centrifuges but insist on more than 4,000, per the AP excerpt above? Your answer:

If you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 is pretty much the number you need,” [former CIA deputy director Mike] Morell, now a CBS analyst, said on Charlie Rose. “If you have a power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon.”