(As in “Zombie Fuel Swap.”)

Late Update | 7 pm, May 21. A2 has asked me to add some clarifying remarks. See below.

At this late date, there might be reason to believe that the LEU/TRR deal was a bridge too far; if the P5+1 wanted to prevent Iran from enriching uranium to just under 20%, they should have offered to supply 19.75% enriched LEU fuel through the IAEA and left it at that.

Of course, there also might be reason to suppose that any such offer would have been turned down on one ground or another, the entire point being salami-slicing from the get-go. In that case, it probably was never worth the effort.

And then of course, there are the criticisms that it has assumed a life of its own, it’s become the tail wagging the dog, and it has become counterproductive.

However you look at it, it’s easy to be down on the ZFS, either in its latest incarnation or in general.

And Now for Something Entirely Different

The Friend of Blog whom we’ve previously called Anonymous Analyst (henceforth A2) writes in to offer a defense of the LEU/TRR deal, the Brazil-Turkey-Iran initiative, and the whole embattled idea of diplomatic engagement.

A2’s take:

A lot of people are missing what ought to be goal of this agreement. The amount of LEU to be removed has always been secondary — Iran’s not going to break out of the NPT for 1-2 weapons, and concerns about Israeli strikes need to be addressed in Jerusalem. The benefit of the agreement would be to get Iran talking.

I also think that those Iranians who wish to bargain — yes, I think there are some — should be rewarded so that they can sell it domestically. So far, it’s working a bit. It is not trivial that Larijani has said good things about this agreement after he previously criticized it.

This agreement also gets Iran to do two things that we have wanted: turn their LEU into reactor fuel and use an international fuel supply mechanism.

True, it doesn’t address the 20% question and it gets proportionally less of the LEU out of the country, but whatever: the agreement doesn’t leave us worse off.

A2 goes on to suggest that the sanctions track can be pursued in parallel to the LEU/TRR track. although we would have been better off not trying a dual-track policy in the first place.

A2 also adds that the Iranian enrichment program seems to be stagnating, which suggests that we could be seeing the start of a climbdown.

Whether or not you agree with everything, that’s a thought-provoking view.

The Decoupling Problem

As you may imagine, I think A2 is being too sanguine about the 20% question; just the act of separating the question of enrichment to nearly 20% from the question of refueling TRR has been damaging. Whatever the purpose of a negotiation ought to be, it shouldn’t be actively increasing mistrust and insecurity. Either the heightened level of enrichment is for refueling TRR, or it’s for something else.

A2 adds:

I don’t advocate ignoring the 20% problem. I think this [i.e., the ZFS] might be a way to address that issue down the line.

Also, I think that Obama should have put additional sanctions on hold for a while – not that we never should have done a pressure track. I thought that the existing mechanisms of pressure were sufficient for the time being.

For what it’s worth, the Iranian side seems to have realized that its position was untenable a few days ago; on Monday, AEOI chief Salehi was asserting that the fuel swap would not put an end to enrichment to the almost-20% level, and the Foreign Ministry spokesman was saying something similar. But by the next day, the spokesman had adopted a posture of studied ambiguity, by one account refusing to answer repeated requests for elaboration.

Iran’s promised statement to the IAEA would be a singularly good opportunity to clarify this question.

Late Update | 11:37 pm, May 24. It’s a missed opportunity.