With great fanfare on Tuesday, the State Department reported that Iran has complied with a key condition of the interim agreement; significantly reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium. It was an accurate statement as long as one ignores Iran’s violations. And now a leading non-proliferation think tank is bashing the Administration for trying to sweep the violations under the rug.
Iran is obligated by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) to do two things by the end of every 6 months:
- Get rid of any UF6 (the chemical form of uranium that is used during the uranium enrichment process) it has enriched above a total stockpile cap of 7,650kg .
- Convert any excess UF6 in a very specific way: by turning it into uranium dioxide powder (also known as yellowcake). The oxidation requirement was written into the JPOA because other methods of getting rid of enriched gas aren’t as proliferation resistant. When the JPOA was extended last summer, Kerry described it as:
“Iran has committed to take further nuclear-related steps in the next four months… [t]hese include a continued cap on the amount of 5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride [UF6] and a commitment to convert any material over that amount into oxide.”
What Kerry didn’t mention is the process to turn the oxide back into UF6 only takes about two weeks, so this Iranian concession wasn’t really a concession. Apparently though, Iran isn’t even complying with that requirement.
At the beginning of this month the NY Times reported that Iran “stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been “frozen” during that period” This made it unlikely that Iran would be able to hit its target of converting its oversupply into yellowcake by the June 30th deadline.
As this administration usually does when confronted with the truth, the State Department hit back at the report. In turn the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) to write a position paper to explain it to the wonks at Foggy Bottom, but ending the paper by accusing the State Dept. trying to sweep the problem under the rug:
The State Department has some explaining to do, publicly. Shooting the messengers is not going to make this issue go away. The deal is too important to all of us.
Four days after the NY Times report (on June 5), acting as the State Department Spox, Marie Harf explained that the Iranians would be in compliance with the JPOA because they’d decrease their UF6 stockpile. But when reporters followed up requesting answers about the Iranians refusing to oxidize the overage, Harf “misspoke” (that’s political speak for lying). She said, “I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence that they are converting it more slowly.” But when reporters reminded her informed her that the Iranians had stopped oxidizing in November 2014, she promised to look into it.
On the first of July, the IAEA published a report confirming the Iranians have met the 7,650kg hexafluoride cap but didn’t meet the oxidation requirement. That would put them in violation of the JPOA. But the administration declared it wasn’t a violation because they contend what the Iranians did was above and beyond:
However, the report indicated that only several hundred pounds of the oxide that is the end product had been made. A U.S. official told The Associated Press the rest of the enriched uranium in the pipeline has been transformed into another form of the oxide that would be even more difficult to reconvert into enriched uranium. The official said that technical problems by Iran had slowed the process but the United States was satisfied that Iran had met its commitments to reduce the amount of enriched uranium it has stored.
Whether or not the Administration is being honest in its explanation of Iran’s compliance, the real issue here is rather than taking the position of protecting the United States by demanding the rogue nation comply with the agreement as written, they “switched sides,” playing the role of Iran’s attorney and explaining away their violation. Now the Obama administration is invested in explaining away other possible Iranian violations.
As the AP article about the IAEA report reminds readers, it is in the administrations best interests to ignore or spin away any violations.
“Violations by Iran would complicate the Obama administration’s battle to persuade congressional opponents and other skeptics.”
The administration appears to be politicizing the reporting process (their push-back on the Times story and Harf’s misstatements) so they can better spin away the truth. And it’s not just that the administration is saying that the Iranians cheated but it doesn’t count, they are also saying that Iran complied with the JPOA as a legal matter –even though Iran didn’t. They’ve invented the compliance.
This is just one more example of the Iranians cheating, for example they’ve exceeded the JPOA’s oil export caps every month, and they injected gas into an advanced centrifuge. And almost every time the administration tries to downplay the cheating to the press by saying, “wait and see; this is just a normal fluctuation; they’ll hit their target,” (that was the State Department’s argument about Iran ignoring the oil export caps).
The Administration keeps telling Congress that the Iranians can be trusted to meet their final deal obligations, because they met their interim deal obligations. But that’s a lie because as the evidence above proves—they didn’t meet anything.
When the administration officials go to the Hill to explain the “science” behind the one-year breakout timeline (which they insist they can achieve despite giving into Iran’s demand to spin thousands of centrifuges because Iran will convert any overages into yellowcake) they will be lying. The evidence suggests that the Iranians can’t or won’t implement those requirements.
On Wednesday the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published one-page report which describes what the Iranians most likely did instead of meeting their obligation. ISIS says they probably left the uranium in an intermediary, more-easily-reversible form between the gas and the oxide that they were supposed to produce. It also explains what it means for the final deal that the U.S. is letting Iran “get away” with violations.
When it became clear that Iran could not meet its commitment to convert the LEU into uranium dioxide, the United States revised its criteria for Iran meeting its obligations. In this case, the potential violation refers to Iran not producing the enriched uranium dioxide by the end of the initial six month period of the JPA and again after its first and second extensions. The choosing of a weaker condition that must be met is not a good precedent for interpreting more important provisions in a final deal.
This case poses several other potential problems about the enforcement of a final deal with Iran. The United States accepted an unproven technical method for converting the LEU. Is it doing so now in a final deal? Are the technical methods in the final deal reliable? Iran will need to reduce, by shipping out of Iran or blending down to natural uranium, a much larger amount of roughly 10,000 kilograms of LEU down to a 300 kg cap within a matter of months. The U.S. government handling of the case of the newly produced LEU under the JPA leads to legitimate doubts about how well that major endeavor will go.
This is more evidence that this president is so desperate for a deal that he will wish away Iranian malfeasance and risk a nuclear conflagration that will kill millions.