‘Potentially Quite Significant’ Progress On Iran

In his remarks yesterday morning at an Iran panel on Capitol Hill, Sen. Joe Lieberman — who claims to support the Obama administration’s Iran engagement policy, having derided it as “naive” while stumping for McCain during the 2008 campaign — set an unrealistically high bar for success in yesterday’s Geneva talks. Reminding the audience that “the Iranian leaders have not yet clearly agreed to put their illicit nuclear activities on the agenda,” Lieberman said:

If the P5+1 plus Iran cannot reach public agreement that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is the major topic of engagement among them today, then there is no point in continuing this process, and we and our allies should get up and leave — promising to return only when and if Iran is willing to begin serious discussions to end their illicit nuclear activities and normalize their relations with the rest of the world, including the United States.

Imagine Joementum’s surprise — and mine, honestly — when the news came that the talks had in fact cleared that bar. Iran not only agreed to make its nuclear program the major topic, the Tehran government “promised to send most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad.”

Gary Sick has a concise rundown of what yesterday’s meetings actually produced:

Iran agreed to permit inspections of its new site. The Western negotiators came up with a clever ploy to permit Iranian low-enriched uranium (LEU) to be sent to Russia for further enrichment, probably from about 5 percent to about 20 percent, and then transported to France to be fabricated into fuel rods to feed the Iranian research reactor (ironically given to Iran by the United States in an earlier day), which is used to produce isotopes used for medical purposes. This had many dimensions. First, it reduced the Iranian LEU stock below the level required to produce a nuclear device. Second, it established the principle that Iranian enrichment could be conducted outside the country. But third, it promised to provide Iran with uranium enriched well above the level required for nuclear power reactors (but not yet at the level required for bomb-building). And lastly, it tacitly acknowledged Iran’s right to produce enriched uranium. Nothing in the reports we have seen to date indicate that the Western interlocutors insisted on the previous red line that Iran should abandon its enrichment program.

It’s important to keep in mind, of course, that currently these agreements — which Brookings’ Ken Pollack called “potentially quite significant” on MSNBC just now — are in principle only. As President Obama made clear in his appropriately cautious statement yesterday, it remains to be seen whether Iran will follow through. But we should also recognize that, as Juan Cole notes, Barack Obama “got more concessions from Iran in 7 1/2 hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling.”


It will be interesting to see what new and wonderful conditions for success Joe Lieberman and the rest of the War Party come up with in the future to try and demonstrate that talks have already failed.