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2013 Geneva Discord: Nuclear Peace Breakthrough or Historic Mistake?

By Jay Holmes

On November 23, 2013, the White House announced that it had just finalized the Geneva Accord, an “interim” agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program. Given that other Geneva Accords have been concluded, and subsequently disregarded, it might be useful to specify it as the 2013 Geneva Accord. Since the announcement of the Accord, we have heard constant news chatter about what it means, who it impacts, and whether we should celebrate it or curse it. The answers to those questions depend on who is talking.

2013 Geneva Accord image from U.S. Dept. of State

2013 Geneva Accord
image from U.S. Dept. of State

According to the White House and staunch Democratic Party supporters, the Accord is an historic foreign policy victory. No surprise. But not all Democrats agree. Democrat congressman Chuck Schumer said, “As for additional sanctions, this disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December. I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues.” (Emphasis is author’s.)

If we ask traditional Democratic Party detractors, the Accord is nothing more than appeasement. They say it is reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Accord with Adolf Hitler, and may result in Armageddon. No surprise.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the 2013 Geneva Accord is an “historic mistake.” “What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake. For the first time, the leading nations in the world agreed to the enrichment of uranium in Iran by ignoring the decisions of the (U.N.) Security Council that they themselves led.” Some Israeli cabinet members condemned the Accord in even harsher terms.

Statements by the E.U. are largely supportive of the Accord as an important first step. However, France expressed disappointment with it. The French delegation to the negotiations in Geneva said, “We want to avoid the euphoria of the glass half full.” They pointed out that in 2003-2004, Iran agreed to a similar suspension of uranium enrichment, but they never followed up their promise with action.

China and Russia were also both parties to the negotiations with Iran in Geneva. They both responded with diplomatic statements indicating that the Geneva Accord is a valuable first step in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a.k.a. America’s favorite gas station) is outspoken in its criticism of the 2013 Geneva Accord and of the process that led to it. The Saudis have been unusually blunt in their criticism of the Obama administration’s entire foreign policy toward Iran, and they claim that they were repeatedly lied to by the Obama administration during the negotiations with Iran. They have gone so far as to clarify that their foreign policy toward Iran will now be conducted more independently, rather than following the U.S. lead, and that they will no longer allow the U.S. to speak for them in any dealings with Iran.

In an unusual move, the Saudis are now engaging openly with Israel and discussing possible cooperation against Iran. The Sunni clerics that so heavily influence Saudi policy are routinely rabidly opposed to Israel. Either they have been momentarily brought to heel, or they are far more concerned about threats from Iran than they are about the existence of Israel. The Shia mullahs of Iran have made no secret that their vision for Iran is that it be the sole Islamic Caliphate on the planet.

Photo illustrating budding relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel

Photo illustrating budding relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel

In my judgement, another possible consequence to Saudi Arabia’s negative response to the 2013 Geneva Accord is that they may feel free to negotiate with Pakistan to purchase nuclear weapons. Until now, Saudi Arabia has relied on the U.S. and the West to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That basic trust caused the Saudis to forgo the decision to acquire nuclear weapons. They have now hinted that they are losing this confidence in the West’s ability and willingness to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Shia mullahs in Iran, which could cause the Saudis to reconsider their decision.

So what, precisely, is the 2013 Geneva Accord? That, too, depends on whom you ask. What everyone agrees on is that the Accord is a “first step” agreement that will last six months while all parties formulate a more long term, comprehensive deal. Beyond that, things become less clear.

According to the Obama administration and the E.U., the Accord slightly reduces Western economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limiting Iran’s ability to enrich uranium. By its terms, Iran must keep concentrations of uranium isotope U-235 below 5%, which is useless for weapons except for “dirty bombs.” It requires Iran to scrap half of its stockpiles of uranium enriched at 20% or more, and to halt the construction of a heavy water reactor capable of producing plutonium. Iran must allow daily inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify compliance. The Obama administration tells us that the subsequent long-term agreement to be drawn up in the next six months will last “around twenty years.” Originally, White House officials expected that the Accord would be in effect as of November 24, 2013. Now they are not certain when the Accord will take effect.

President Hassan Rouhani, Official Photo "... our enrichment activities will continue as before."

President Hassan Rouhani, Official Photo
“… our enrichment activities will continue as before.”

If we ask Iran what the Geneva Accord means, they tell us that it means Iran can still enrich uranium as it sees fit, and that all economic sanctions against Iran have been lifted. The Iranians are now stating that the 2013 Geneva Accord will not take effect until January of 2014. Right after the Accord was supposedly agreed to in Geneva by the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Iran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the Iranian media, “Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before.” (Emphasis is author’s.)

Whatever the folks in the White House, 10 Downing Street, the Elysée Palace, the Kremlin, Beijing, or the Western media think, claim to think, or pretend to think that the 2013 Geneva Accord means, it would be in everyone’s best interest if all parties to the Accord would agree on what they are agreeing to do or agreeing to not do. For the present, the parties to the agreement, in particular the Iranians, do not seem to be agreeing to the same “Accord” that all other parties to the agreement indicate that they are agreeing to. For the moment, we have only the Geneva discord to analyze.

Herein lies a critical problem in dealing with Iran. Whatever an Iranian president agrees to with the West or with anyone else is subject to the approval of the (supposedly) religious junta that has the final say in Iran. That junta is led by the old Ayatollah Khomeini’s water boy and amateur zealot, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei may be disdained by legitimate Shia scholars around the world and might be scorned by Sunnis and nearly anyone else that knows about him, but he has the obedience of the Iranian Republican Guards and the courts of Iran, so he matters.

So what does the 2013 Geneva Accord mean to the average taxpayer in the West? So far, not much. We will first need to know how much of the Accord will be accepted by the religious junta in Iran. Not much will change in Iran without their permission. Western businesses will quickly attempt to sign deals with Iran to sell it expensive technology and to purchase Iranian oil and gas. Those businessmen might be surprised to find out that Beijing and Putin Bahk (Bank Putin) were busy secretly negotiating “capitalist pig” type post-sanction deals with Iran while the West was busy worrying about U-235 stockpiles. Western free market democratic type “capitalist pigs” better move fast if they want to beat out filthy communist dog type “capitalist pigs” in reaping any financial benefits from any reduction in the economic sanctions against Iran.

If Iran actually ceases to process uranium above 5% U-235 concentration, scraps half of its stockpiles of 20% U-235, halts construction of its plutonium breeder reactor, and allows daily onsite inspections, then the 2013 Geneva Accord will signify progress in our relations with Iran and will move Iran further away from developing nuclear warheads. It will allow Iran to salvage its economy while benefiting foreign corporations that will do business with it.  If Iran does not do those things, assuming that the West does not prematurely unilaterally reduce sanctions against Iran, then the 2013 Geneva Accord will represent nothing more than a successful delaying tactic for the Iranians in their quest for nuclear weapons. As is often the case, the devil is in the details, and neither the devil, nor the details, has yet played out.

image by Semhur, wikimedia commons

image by Semhur, wikimedia commons

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12 thoughts on “ 2013 Geneva Discord: Nuclear Peace Breakthrough or Historic Mistake?

  1. Pingback: The Geneva Discord: Nuclear Peace Breakthrough or Historic Mistake? « Bayard & Holmes

  2. Fascinating. I always learn so much from you, Jay! One of these days, I may be able to talk cogently about some of these issues. 😉

  3. on ,
    Dave said:

    Various news sources are insisting that continuing the hardline sanctions against Iran marginalizes the “moderates” or pragmatists within the country. Their reasoning runs something like this: If moderates receive nothing during negotiations, it discredits them and bolsters the position of religious extremists further.

    Since a “moderate” or pragmatist in Iran is likely to be a long way from recognizable as such by us, I’m sceptical.

    What is your response to that view? What approach to dealing with Iran is most likely to be effective?

    • Hi Dave. Propping up moderates in Iran is a tricky business. If all that mattered was their popularity they would be in power and in control of Iran now. As long as the thugs in the Revolutionary Guards back the mullahs the mullahs will continue to run the show in Iran. The only moderation the mullahs is whatever “moderation” they think will improve their own circumstances. Iran has been able to withstand the economic sanctions placed against them because the mullahs are at the top of the food chain and they are able to keep the Republican Guards comfortable. The discomfort of the average Iranian is of little consequence to the policy makers in Iran.

      My response is a somewhat reductionist view of the situation in Iran but that small bit of divergence from this basic factor would further explain Iranian policies but would require a three volume book. it would be a depressing book to read.

      • on ,
        Dave said:

        Yep, there isn’t much that’s located close to the middle east that isn’t depressing. It must be worse to live there.

  4. Holmes, when I started reading the post I expected an analysis that would extend globally. I got a concise summary. You and I and others have been around long enough to know that 99.999% of treaties, pact, agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Chamberlain got snookered by Hitler. The Allies repaid the favor by reducing most of Germany to rubble and occupying it far longer than necessary. Obama is looking for something to bail his a** out. The Democrats have a handful of turkey droppings and are trying to make turkey salad. The Republicans are salivating because this is a major league faux pas. The rest of the world, who knows? They’re just praying some zealot with a pocket nuke doesn’t decide to visit Allah in on of their locales.

    • Hi Tomwisk. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think that most Europeans are facing long term economic prospects that are very grim. This hinders their ability to effectively conduct foreign policy. We suffer from some of the same problem here. In my view many Europeans still see the US as being “closer” than they are to any problem outside of Europe. They know the map and they know that Iran could land a missile payload in Paris or Rome more easily than they could land one in Washington DC but many Europeans still have a deeply rooted instinct that tells them that it is mostly an “American” problem to solve. This makes it difficult for the most pragmatic European politicians to get anything done.

      France seems to be returning to a more active foreign policy stance. Most of the Islamic terrorist strikes in France during the last few years have not been controlled by or ordered by Iran yet those strikes combined with the Islamic riots in Paris may have left many French voters more concerned with Iran than they were ten years ago. In spite of this and contrary to their own national interests some French corporations have played a role in helping Iran to develop uranium refinement capabilities. It’s good to know that other nations have some corporations that are as unpatriotic as some of our corporations.

  5. You have provided more clarity than I have been able to discern through the muddled mess we call U.S.-Iran relations. I would like to think Iran would never create a nuclear weapon based on Islamic beliefs. However, my faith in Iran’s religious purity is shaky at best. Thanks for your insights. – Mike

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