Following the nuclear negotiations with Iran, I am constantly amazed at the revelations that get reported (though often not widely enough) that document the administration’s systematic capitulation to every single Iranian demand.

Though it’s probably not the most shocking news I’ve heard, the news broken by MEMRI, that already in 2011 President Barack Obama had conceded that Iran had the right to enrich uranium, is probably near the top. Before any serious negotiations were underway the administration gave away its most significant bargaining chip.

The Free Beacon summarized MEMRI’s report:

President Barack Obama approved of Iran’s right to operate a nuclear program in 2011 during secret meetings with Iranian officials, according to new disclosures by Iran’s Supreme Leader. …

Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Iran stating that the United States “recognizes Iran’s rights regarding” nuclear enrichment, according to another senior Iranian official, Hossein Sheikh Al-Islam.

“We came to the [secret] negotiations [with the United States] after Kerry wrote a letter and sent it to us via [mediator Omani Sultan Qaboos], stating that America officially recognizes Iran’s rights regarding the [nuclear fuel] enrichment cycle,” Al-Islam said in a recent interview with Iran’s Tasnim news agency, according to MEMRI.

Keep in mind that Kerry, at this point was a senator, not the Secretary of State and that it was the vitriolic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was president of Iran, before the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani was anything more than a gleam in the eyes of our top Iran experts.

Still what’s important here is that this wasn’t just a major concession to Iran, it was a major shift in American diplomacy. The Obama administration has liked to say the the Bush administration tried to engage Iran diplomatically. True enough. But the Bush administration insisted – in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions – that Iran stop enriching before it would talk.

Why is this shift important? Last week Gen. Yaadov Amidror, a former national security advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote a thorough critique of the nuclear deal with Iran. Tucked away in the middle of his paper were a couple of paragraphs that described the shift.

From the moment that the policy in Washington changed, and there was no longer any intention of actually dismantling Iran’s nuclear capabilities, it was clear to the Americans that it would be impossible to include Israel in the negotiations. The US therefore shifted to conducting secret negotiations that it hid from Israel.

While the importance of personal relations should not be underestimated, this US decision to keep the details of the negotiations with Iran from Israel stemmed from the fundamental understanding that, following the shift in American policy, Israel would not be able to agree with the purpose of the negotiations, nor in any case involved in an active capacity.

As long as the purpose of the negotiations was shared and agreed-upon, Israel went along with the US, and did nothing that might upset the process. As soon as the US decided to make do with delaying Iran’s getting the bomb, by a fixed time period, then Israel was left on the outside – not because of the strained relations between the president and the prime minister, but because of significant differences of opinion. Subsequently, although the American negotiators did make use of Israeli experts, Israel was not involved in the central deliberations.

In other words the rift between Israel and the United States was engineered by the Obama administration. The administration decided to freeze Israel out because it knew that Israel opposed making this basic concession to Iran. Netanyahu has spent his time since then raising the alarm about the danger of the deal.

In addition to being the wedge between the United States and Israel, this concession on the administration’s part also gives lie to a claim made by Secretary of State John Kerry (and other members of the administration.):

Let me underscore, the alternative to the deal that we have reached is not some kind of unicorn fantasy that contemplates Iran’s complete capitulation. I’ve heard people talk about dismantling their program. That didn’t happen under President Bush when they had a policy of no enrichment, and they had 163 centrifuges. They went up to the 19,000. Our intelligence community confirms – and I ask you all to sit with them. They’ll tell you that’s not going to happen.

It was never going to happen because the administration was not going to ask for it. Kerry loves to talk about how Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will give the U.S. the legal right and international legitimacy to respond to future Iranian violations. However, the sanctions were lawfully imposed unanimously or by a large majority of Security Council member on Iran due to its defiance of the IAEA and Security Council. They were imposed because Iran lacked international legitimacy.

The JCPOA wipes out those sanctions and, without changing, Iran was granted legality and international legitimacy due to the administration’s generosity.

If the United States had the leverage to get Iran to negotiate, it could have demanded the end of Iran’s enrichment before sanctions relief. Instead the US capitulated to Iran’s demand. Since when does a criminal get to dictate the terms of his release?

Finally it’s worth pointing out that demanding that Iran stop enriching isn’t some crazy right wing fantasy. It was the accepted wisdom of the European Union not too long ago. In an op-ed (Google link) for The Wall Street Journal in September 2005, Philippe Douste-Blazy, Joschka Fischer, Javier Solana and Jack Straw (the foreign ministers of France, Germany, the EU and Britain) wrote:

We decided instead to find a way forward that would give Iran an opportunity to dispel concerns and prove that the aims of its nuclear program were entirely peaceful. The IAEA’s Board of Governors agreed to delay a report to the Security Council, to give the European initiative a chance. At the heart of our initiative was a proposal that Iran should restore confidence by suspending all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities while we discussed mutually acceptable long-term arrangements. The IAEA Board adopted unanimously six successive resolutions asking Iran to suspend these activities. In November 2004, Iran finally agreed to move ahead on this basis. The “Paris Agreement” set out the framework for talks. It offered the prospect of not just a long-term solution to the nuclear issue, but also a stronger relationship between Europe and Iran, including co-operation on political and security issues and in economic and scientific fields. …

Last month, Iran decided to defy the international community by restarting uranium conversion at its plant in Isfahan, a unilateral step halting our talks. Iran claims it is doing no more than enjoying its right to make peaceful use of nuclear technology, in accordance with the NPT. Iran wants to paint this as a dispute between the developed and developing world.

These arguments do not stand up. No one is trying to stop Iran from generating electricity by nuclear power. We do not question Iran’s — or any country’s — rights under the NPT. This is why, in August, we offered Iran, as part of a long-term agreement, support for its civil nuclear program. But with NPT rights go very clear obligations, and there are serious grounds for concern that Iran’s nuclear ambitions may not be exclusively peaceful.

Note too that the EU foreign ministers were holding out hope of greater cooperation with Iran, but Iran “decided to defy the international community.”

Now the JCPOA rewards Iran for that defiance. And the dynamic that allowed it to happen was a unilateral step taken by the Obama administration.

[Photo: European External Action Service / Flickr ]