Has Obama Made Agreement With Iran More Difficult? Back To The Original Baseline
02 May 2015
By Amir Taheri
Next Wednesday, Iran and the P5+1 group of nations resume talks in the hope
of reaching an agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue before the June 30
The hype fomented over the ''historic accord'' in Lausanne may have made it
harder to negotiate an agreement. One reason is that the issue has now become
a theme of domestic politics both in Iran and the US.
In the US, Obama's opponents are sure to do all they can to prevent him from
cooking up a ''diplomatic victory'' to burnish his dismal legacy.
In Iran, radical Khomeinists will intensify efforts to prevent the Rafsanjani
faction, which Rouhani and his entourage are a part of, from using ''the
greatest diplomatic victory in Islamic history'' as a springboard for winning
next year's elections for the Islamic Majlis and the Assembly of Experts and,
eventually, showing Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei the door.
In the meantime, the Iranian nuclear issue continues to cast a shadow over
peace and security in a turbulent Middle East.
Even if Iran does not mean to build a bomb, the fact that it is building the
capacity to do so is enough to destabilize an already shaky balance of power,
trigger a nuclear arms race, and encourage dangerous miscalculations on all
The bad news is that the P5+1 talks have transmuted into bilateral
negotiations between Tehran and Washington.
Obama's zeal to make a deal—any deal—may have rendered an agreement more
difficult, if not impossible. His confusion and weakness have convinced the
mullahs that with every new round, they can blur the baseline in their favor.
The saga started with the demand that Iran comply with six resolutions of the
United Nations' Security Council, especially Resolution 1929, that puts in
place precise conditions for the lifting of sanctions imposed on the Islamic
Under Obama's guidance, that baseline was blurred into a demand that Iran
modify minor aspects of its nuclear program. When Iran rejected even that,
Obama changed the baseline again by accepting Iran as a ''threshold'' nuclear
power, only demanding that it stay one year away from making a bomb for a
period of 10 years.
Now Iran says that even that baseline is not acceptable.
The best option may be to return to the original baseline, that is to say the
UN resolutions which, unlike what Kerry is trying to spin, are precise in
content and from.
That baseline has several advantages.
First, it would stop the issue from becoming a football in Iranian and US
domestic politics. It would also end the Iranian illusion that they are
dealing with a pushover like Obama who is prepared to sacrifice US national
interests in pursuit of personal grandeur.
The de-Americanization of the issue would also deprive Khomeinists from
taking risks with Iran's national security in the hope of thumbing their nose
at the ''Great Satan.''
A nuclear-armed Islamic Republic under a sinister regime with millenarian
illusions is not just a problem for America, it is a danger for regional and
This does not mean that the US should be excluded from diplomatic efforts.
An ad hoc contraption with no clear mandate from anybody, the P5+1 group has
no legal existence, no clearly established leadership, and no precise
authority to report to.
This could be corrected by demanding the Security Council pass a new
resolution appointing the P5+1, or a variation thereof, to a precise mission
to negotiate over Iran's compliance with the UN resolutions.
Of course, if Obama wishes to pursue his dream of charming the mullahs out of
their turbans he could do so by initiating a separate set of talks focusing
on bilateral issues of which there are plenty.
The original UN baseline, effaced by Obama, had several promising features.
It included an Iranian accord to freeze its program pending a comprehensive
plan to enable Iran to build a nuclear industry for peaceful purposes.
Iran, however, suddenly decided to reject the freeze in the hope of getting
something better from Obama.
Back to the original baseline, the new negotiating team, which would include
the US, could start by demanding that the freeze be reinstated.
The original baseline also included legal and constitutional measures
committing Iran not to build nuclear weapons. There were precedents with
several countries, notably Germany, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa
and Kazakhstan using legal and constitutional systems to forswear nuclear
In 2008, Iran had indicated it was prepared to consider similar measures.
When Obama seized leadership of the P5+1 talks, Iran wiggled its way out of
Instead, it claimed that Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei had issued a fatwa
forbidding nuclear weapons. An excitable Obama seized upon this fatwa as a
ray of hope, enabling Iran to backtrack on promises of legal measures.
In the end, however, neither Obama nor anyone else saw the non-existent
By returning to the pre-Obama baseline, talks could focus on constitutional
measures promised by Iran.
Back to the pre-Obama baseline, the UN would demand that Iran honor its
promise of adopting the additional protocols of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT). The UN would also be able to renew its offer of linking Iran's
uranium enrichment capacity to its needs.
The ''need-oriented'' formula means that if and when Iran builds a nuclear
power station it would be allowed to domestically produce the fuel required.
(Right now, Iran has no nuclear power station that requires domestic fuel
production. The fuel for its only plant in Helliyeh, built by the Russians,
is supplied by Russia for its lifespan of 37 years.)
Under Obama, talks have focused on how much uranium Iran could enrich—uranium
which it does not require. It is like demanding that a bald man be allowed no
more than a dozen combs, a luxury which, by default, he does not need.
The Obama method has caused confusion and delayed a solution. It has
persuaded the mullahs that the cost-benefit calculation is in their favor.
The best thing Obama can do is to try, at least, to do no more harm.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated
in Tehran, London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily
Kayhan in Iran (1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the
Sunday Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the
International Press Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a
contributor to the International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall
Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the
French magazine Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus.
Between 1989 and 2005, he was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt.
Taheri has published 11 books, some of which have been translated into 20
languages. He has been a columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's
latest book "The Persian Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and