On July 1:
And today:Remember how at the beginning of June the State Department melted down on David Sanger, after he and William Broad published an article about Iran's failure to turn its enriched uranium gas (UF6) into oxide? Turns out, Sanger and Broad were right and the State Department was wrong.
Iran is obligated by the interim JPOA to do two things by the end of every 6 months: (1) get rid of any UF6 it has enriched above a total stockpile is 7,650kg (this is the "hexafluoride cap") (2) get rid of that excess UF6 in a very specific way: by turning it into uranium dioxide powder (this is the "oxidation requirement"). 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, this was how Kerry described it: "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 and a commitment to convert any material over that amount into oxide." [a]Sanger and Broad reported at the beginning of June that Iran had enriched too much gas to hit their targets by June 30 [b]. That triggered a full week of administration pushback, but State spokespeople never quite got the argument: they thought it was about the hexafluoride cap not the oxidation requirement. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) tried during the week to explain the difference but to no avail [c]. On day 4 of press briefings on the subject Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications Marie Harf was still asserting that the Iranians would be in compliance with the JPOA because they'd decrease their hexafluoride [d]. When reporters clarified they wanted answers about the Iranians refusing to oxidize she said - falsely - "I don't think we've seen any evidence that they are converting it more slowly." When reporters subsequently informed her that - in fact - the Iranians had stopped oxidizing in November 2014, she promised to look into it.Today the IAEA published a report confirming the Iranians have met the hexafluoride cap but didn't meet the oxidation requirement. That would put them in violation of the JPOA, except the administration has declared that it's not a violation because the Iranians did something that wasn't what they were supposed to do, but was OK anyway. The full story is pasted below, but here's the key part: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.
A few reasons this is a huge deal:-- The Obama administration is already playing Tehran's lawyer and explaining away Iranian cheating - They're letting the Iranians pick and choose which parts of the agreement they want to comply with. Then they're working to justify it. As another part of the AP article notes: "Violations by Iran would complicate the Obama administration's battle to persuade congressional opponents and other skeptics." So they have to either ignore or spin.-- Even worse, the administration appears to be politicizing the reporting process so as to better spin away the cheating away - It's not just that the administration is saying that the Iranians cheated but it doesn't count. They're also fiating that Iran complied with the JPOA as a legal matter, even though Iran didn't.-- The Iranians flat out cheated; again - It's not the first time they cheated (they've busted through the JPOA's oil export caps every month and they injected gas into an advanced centrifuge). It's not even the first time that the administration tried to sandbag the press corps on the cheating by saying "wait and see; this is just a normal fluctuation; they'll hit their target" (that was the State Department's argument about oil export caps for months). But nonetheless the administration keeps telling lawmakers that the Iranians can be trusted to meet their final deal obligations, because they met their interim deal obligations. No they didn't.-- The esoteric technical fixes that were built into the interim JPOA - and which are being built into the final JCPOA - failed - The oxidation condition was always a too-cute-by-half mechanism to let the Iranians keep enriching (their red line) while ostensibly keeping their program frozen (the administration talking point). But the final JCPOA is built on similar esoteric technical fixes, which were similarly designed to placate the Iranians. When administration officials go to the Hill to brag about the "science" behind the 1 year breakout timeline - which they insist they can achieve despite giving into Iran's demand to spin thousands of centrifuges - that's what they're talking about. The evidence now suggests that the Iranians can't or won't implement such fixes.
Day 3 of this, and still nothing on the record from the Obama administration about why it's OK to let the Iranians be in violation of the interim JPOA's requirement that they convert their excess enriched uranium (UF6) into uranium dioxide powder (UO2). The main argument appears to be that the Iranians got close enough: a "US official" told the Associated Press the US was "satisfied" with Iran transforming the uranium gas into something that's not dioxide, and yesterday Scott Kemp - a former science advisor for the State Department on Iran's nuclear program - tweeted that the distinction was about "minor chemical variants not meaningful in the slightest."His last paragraph is devastating, and should make even the most enthusiastic Obama supporter think twice:
No it's not. The issue isn't about chemical variants of uranium oxide as mandated by the interim JPOA deal. It's about the credibility of the final JCPOA deal that Congress will have to evaluate. For the interim agreement, the administration invented an unproven technological quick-fix so that it could cave to an Iranian demand - the demand to keep enriching - while still telling lawmakers that Tehran's program was "frozen." When that technological quick-fix failed the White House went into “Iran’s lawyer” mode: first they declared that skeptics were wrong and that the Iranians would stay in compliance - because White House scientists said so (!) - and when that became indefensible they weakened the deal's criteria so they could claim the Iranians weren't cheating.
If lawmakers were evaluating the agreement based on whether the Obama administration will even enforce it, 100% of the evidence cuts the other way. In the last 20 months, the administration has never called out Iranian cheating, and has instead played Iran's lawyer on half a dozen different JPOA and UN sanctions violations.