“Western officials and experts cannot quite figure out why,” notes the Times, despite the fact that UN inspectors have had “almost daily access” to Iranian nuclear facilities. These are the same inspectors we’ll be relying on to detect whether Iran’s cheating once the final deal is in effect. If they can’t tell why a stash of nuclear fuel right under their noses is growing, what don’t they know about projects that Iran has worked harder to conceal?

As a preface to the news, here’s a suddenly memorable quote from this year’s State of the Union: “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.” Over to you, NYT:

With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been “frozen” during that period…

The 2013 plan for capping the stockpile relied on Iran’s stated plan to build a “conversion plant” at its sprawling nuclear complex at Isfahan. The plant was intended to turn newly enriched uranium into oxide powder, the first step toward making reactor fuel rods. In other words, while the stockpile would not be reduced, it also should not have grown…

What remains unknown is the cause of the bottleneck at the new plant: technical problems, Iranian foot-dragging, or some combination of the two. The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington research group, wrote in an analysis on Friday that Iranian officials say the plant’s final stage “did not work properly,” prompting the delay…

Presiding over the plant’s opening last August, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Iran had successfully overcome industrial sabotage, a long rumored way the West has sought to slow Tehran’s nuclear program.

Says Andrew Stiles, if today’s story only “partially” undercuts Obama’s claims, what would have to happen to totally undercut it?

Two theories, then. One: Iran’s deliberately building up its uranium stockpile to spook the west and make them more amenable to concessions when the final deal is struck this month. Two: Iran’s trying to get rid of some of its uranium by converting it into nuclear fuel rods, which are harmless for bomb-making purposes — but something’s stopping them, possibly some sort of western Stuxnet-style sabotage. Except, of course, it’d be nuts for the west to prevent Iran from reducing its supply of potential bomb material; the sabotage nonsense being spouted is either propaganda designed to disguise Iran’s own technical incompetence or a convenient cover story for the fact that they’re building up their uranium supply deliberately. And the more it builds, the harder it gets for Obama to sell this final-deal abortion back home in the U.S. He’ll still get it through Congress, of course — Bob Corker’s sellout Senate bill, which allows any deal to be implemented so long as just one-third of the chamber supports it, will see to that. But the more it looks like Iran’s already cheating by making a liar of Obama on his “we stopped the program!” claims, the more politically painful making this deal will be for O among American voters. I hope that humiliation is worth it to Iran: By making a joke out of O, they’re also making it harder for Hillary to get elected next year, and Hillary’s far more likely than any Republican except Rand Paul to keep a dubious agreement with Iran intact.

The obvious question now: If their uranium stockpile is growing because there really is some innocent technical glitch at the “conversion plant,” why doesn’t Iran make a goodwill gesture to its western negotiation partners by either secretly freezing uranium enrichment until the glitch is resolved or quietly handing over the new uranium that they’re enriching to the UN for safekeeping somewhere inside the country? They wouldn’t want to do either of those things publicly for fear of losing face among the Iranian public but they could presumably do both surreptitiously, to reassure western powers until the conversion plant is functioning properly. How come they haven’t?

While you mull that, skip to 0:55 for Obama’s answer to an Israeli reporter when asked why a military solution wouldn’t be more likely to stop Iran’s program. That won’t work now, says O; all it would do is temporarily set back Iran’s program. Which is funny, because that’s all Obama’s nuclear deal would do too. Ten years from now, Iran can go right back to cranking out enriched uranium with the west’s blessing, albeit with far more efficient centrifuges than they’re using now. And really, if O’s going to nudge Israel that a military attack won’t work at this point, shouldn’t he acknowledge that it’s partly his own administration’s fault that that’s true? His deputies aren’t even coy about it. They’ll tell you flat out, when they’re not busy mocking Netanyahu as a “chickensh*t” for not bombing Iran when he had the chance.