In the many press briefings that have rolled out of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, one of the most bizarre formulations involves hopes of a deal providing assurance that — as senior officials like to put it — “the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”
You might suppose that this is a trademark phrase of Iranian senior officials, dangling oxymorons like bait in front of desperate western diplomats. But no. That quote is from the U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry, at a press availability in Vienna, on Tuesday. Kerry had just finished attending a special even-higher than high-level round of Iran nuclear talks in the Austrian capital — where the nuclear haggling has been a full-time industry in the run-up to the Sunday, July 20 deadline for a deal (a “deadline” that may be extended into next year). In his brief remarks to the press, Kerry managed to work in four variations on this vision of an “exclusively peaceful” Iranian nuclear program, excerpted here (boldface, mine):
President Obama has made it a top priority to pursue a diplomatic effort to see if we can reach an agreement that assures that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.
Over the past few days, I have had lengthy conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran’s own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.
There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran’s program will always remain exclusively peaceful.
For the Iranians, this kind of language is a gift, pure and simple. From the chief diplomatic envoy of the Great Satan comes this refrain about the “exclusively peaceful” potential of the Iranian nuclear program. It’s all promise and smoke; all jam tomorrow, not today. It cedes to Iran the premise that whether there is a deal in Vienna or not, there will be an Iranian nuclear program. It introduces into public discourse — courtesy of the U.S. government, no less — this refrain about an Iranian nuclear program being potentially nothing to worry about. We can look forward to an Iranian landscape dotted with peaceful centrifuges, peaceful reactors, peaceful sources of potential nuclear bomb fuel, being peacefully operated by the rulers of a country that just happens to be… the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
Kerry is by no means the only U.S. official chanting this refrain about Iran’s potential to become a paragon of “exclusively peaceful” nuclear ventures. On Wednesday, President Obama mentioned to the press that the U.S. is working with its partners toward a nuclear deal that “assures us that Iran’s program will, in fact, be peaceful and that they won’t obtain a nuclear weapon.”
This has been the U.S. diplomatic refrain since the Iran nuclear talks kicked off in Vienna this past February. If you pull up the State Department web site, and search within it for the combined terms “Iran” and “nuclear” and “exclusively peaceful,” you should get at least 143 hits. Some might be duplicates, but many are not. By now, those keywords deserve to be installed as an exhibit somewhere in Foggy Bottom, in letters six-feet high, as a monument to the notion — folly in world politics — that saying something often enough might make it so.
The phrase is absurd. Iran’s nuclear program is manifestly not about peace. If it were, there would have been no need for Iran’s collaboration with Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan nuclear network, no need for secretly built Iranian enrichment facilities, no need for Iran’s years of maneuvering under sanctions, no need for Iran’s work on long-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, no need for the whole vast elaborate web of deceits and dodges and ploys with which Iran has built its nuclear program. There would be no need now for months and months of multi-tiered haggling in Vienna with the U.S., Britain, France and Germany (and, nominally, with China and Russia — which have managed the trick of both supplying materiel to Iran’s nuclear program, and bargaining over the results). There would be no need for secrecy. There would be no need for any more Iranian nuclear program going forward. Iran’s regime could dismantle its entire nuclear kit, and amuse itself with developing the country’s vast wealth of oil and gas.
Quite obviously, that’s not what Iran’s rulers want. The real problem here is the Tehran regime — which is anything but exclusively peaceful. Until that regime is gone, the only way to ensure that Iran abjures all nuclear ventures except those that are “exclusively peaceful” is to make sure that Iran has no nuclear program at all.