Another Iranian bait-and-switch?

The deadline for an agreement in the talks with Iran arrives tomorrow, and the talks have taken a surprising turn in the last few hours. Surprising, that is, only to those who have never paid attention to nuclear talks with the Iranians before. At the last minute, the Iranians have refused to part with their already-enriched uranium as discussed in the talks, the New York Times’ David Sanger and Michael Gordon reported late last night. Russia had offered to hold it in “escrow” in order to facilitate a deal, but as they have done at every turn, the Iranians have demanded a last-minute change to the fundamentals of any arrangement that the West might accept:

With a negotiating deadline just two days away, Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country.

For months, Iran tentatively agreed that it would send a large portion of its stockpile of uranium to Russia, where it would not be accessible for use in any future weapons program. But on Sunday Iran’s deputy foreign minister made a surprise comment to Iranian reporters, ruling out an agreement that involved giving up a stockpile that Iran has spent years and billions of dollars to amass.

“The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program, and we do not intend sending them abroad,” the official, Abbas Araqchi, told the Iranian media, according to Agence France-Presse. “There is no question of sending the stocks abroad.”

Each time the US and its European partners think they have a deal, Iran demands ridiculous concessions. This pattern has run through all of the talks, starting after the 2003 exposure of their program. The idea, from Tehran’s point of view, is to test their enemies to see how far they can be pushed. If the talks fail, Tehran blames the West and keeps working on the nuclear weapons, then demands more concessions to come back to the table. It’s the Tehran Two-Step, and the mullahs have used it brilliantly to buy more time to make the nuclear weapons a fait accompli for real concessions later on down the road.

The only shocking part of it is that the West hasn’t wised up to it. In fact, it looks like the P5+1 may be ready to throw in the towel:

Western officials confirmed that Iran was balking at shipping the fuel out, but insisted that there were other ways of dealing with the material. Chief among those options, they said, was blending it into a more diluted form. Depending on the technical details, that could make the process of enriching it for military use far more lengthy, or perhaps nearly impossible.

Nonetheless, the revelation that Iran is now insisting on retaining the fuel could raise a potential obstacle at a critical time in the talks. And for critics of the emerging deal in Congress, in Israel and in Sunni Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, the prospect of leaving large amounts of nuclear fuel in Iran, in any form, is bound to intensify their already substantial political opposition.

Oh, please. Who will ensure the dilution? The Iranians have already rejected snap inspections by IAEA, and there are only guesses as to how much enriched uranium exists. Shipping out the fuel would have solved both of those problems, which is why the Iranians balked at it. The Sunni Arab nations know that fuel won’t be diluted or made “impossible” for military use. It has their names on the labels, as well as Israel’s.

Bloomberg also notes the impasse over the fuel issue, and also that Sergei Lavrov has left the talks. He’ll be back, Lavrov told others, if the negotiations get serious:

“If there were not still differences,” Peter Cook says, “they would have had an agreement on Sunday.” Or any time between 2003 and now for that matter. The “differences” are that Iran wants nuclear weapons to dominate the region, heighten terrorism, and to target Israel, and the rest of us don’t want them to have it.

The West still has one day to debase itself enough to get its meaningless piece of paper to wave over its collective head and declare peace in our time. Do not underestimate their desire to do exactly that, or to cave completely to Tehran.

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