Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry sounded optimistic about prospects for an agreement to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Just two weeks earlier, talks in Vienna ended without an accord, allowing Tehran to continue accruing cash while it refuses to cooperate with the P5+1 until next summer. Speaking to a Saban Forum audience, Kerry predicted that a new agreement would be reached well before that point:

Secretary of State John F. Kerry predicted Sunday that a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capacity could be reached in three or four months, or even sooner. …

But Kerry said it will become apparent, long before the new June 30 deadline, if an agreement is feasible.

“We’re not looking at seven months,” Kerry said. “I think the target is three, four months, and hopefully even sooner if that is possible.”

Kerry may strike an optimistic tone, but according to Foreign Policy, the State Department already has plenty of grounds for despair. Iran has used the opening in the sanctions regime recently to accelerate its acquisition of prohibited hardware, and the US knows it — and Kerry and the Obama administration is trying to keep it quiet:

The United States has privately accused Iran of going on an international shopping spree to acquire components for a heavy-water reactor that American officials have long feared could be used in the production of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium.

A U.S. delegation informed a U.N. Security Council panel of experts monitoring Iranian sanctions in recent months that Iranian procurement agents have been increasing their efforts to illicitly obtain equipment for the IR-40 research reactor at the Arak nuclear complex.

The American allegations, which have never before been reported, come more than a year after the Iranian government pledged as part of an interim agreement with the United States and other big powers to scale back Iran’s most controversial nuclear-related activities, including the enrichment of high-grade uranium, in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. They stand in stark contrast to recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has repeatedly credited Tehran with abiding by the terms of the November 2013 pact, which bound Tehran to suspend some of its work at Arak. “Iran has held up its end of the bargain,” Kerry said last month in Vienna as he announced a seven-month extension of the timetable for big-power talks.

Instead of ramping down procurement for Arak, though, the US has already told the UN Security Council that Iran is increasing its investment in heavy-water research there. They have been able to do so, the report explained, because of the reduction in sanctions and opening of diplomatic and trade opportunities that retreat created, including getting funds by attempting arms sales to Sudan against UN sanctions.

Not only that, but member states have stopped reporting sanctions violations — not because they aren’t happening, but because they don’t want to disrupt the negotiations. Rouhani himself went on television in August to brag about evading the sanctions, Colum Lynch notes, and seizures of shipments demonstrate that Iran has not stopped those efforts. Other nations have simply given up on reporting them, either in hope of seeing an effective agreement take shape, or perhaps more likely, seeing America’s silence on the subject as a big signal that reporting violations won’t make any difference anyway.

Jeff Dunetz asks the obvious question:

This raises the question why is the U.S. still negotiating with Iran?  We know that Iran is purchasing more parts for its heavy water plant and at the same time we think that watch dog countries have stopped “tattling” about Iran violations. Are we that desperate for an agreement to negotiate when the other side is ignoring the promises it made? The United States is not negotiating an agreement, but a capitulation. But don’t worry, they are keeping it a secret.

Barack Obama and John Kerry are desperate to prove that they can resolve the decades-long standoff with Iran. They need a foreign policy win desperately, as Obama’s record in this arena is about as terrible as it could possibly get. He squandered Iraq, was about to do so with Afghanistan, and watched as Vladimir Putin restarted the Cold War, doing nothing but pushing the “reset button” until it was too late for Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Iran sees the desperation from Obama and Kerry and are exploiting it.

Benjamin Netanyahu told the Saban Forum that the US is heading in the wrong direction on Iran, and would have already capitulated if it hadn’t been for his government:

Netanyahu said it was fortunate that international negotiators from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany did not meet last month’s deadline for a deal with Iran because he said an agreement reached then “would have effectively left Iran as a threshold nuclear power.”

Those talks have been extended the talks until July 2015, with the goal of reaching a framework for a deal by the end of March.

Netanyahu said Israel’s “voice” and “concerns” had played a critical role in preventing a bad deal from being reached in November. He added it is imperative to use the extra time to step up and reinforce demands that Iran prove its nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and not as many suspect a cover for atomic weapons development.

“Now we must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capability,” he said in a videotaped message to the conference at The Brookings Institution.

Netanyahu did not elaborate on how the pressure should be increased. Some Israeli officials and U.S. lawmakers have called for the U.S. to impose more sanctions on Iran but the Obama administration is resisting this, saying more sanctions would violate the terms of an interim agreement reached with Iran and crater the ongoing negotiations.

It looks like Iran has no problem in violating the agreement, and the US knows it. So why keep the concessions in place at all? Netanyahu’s correct — the only way to get Iran to cough up its nuclear-weapons program is to keep the pressure on Tehran and to highlight the violations when they occur. The current strategy is literally appeasement and talks for the sake of talking.