Pre-Payment on the Iran Deal

“Enrichment, which is one part of our nuclear right, will continue, it is continuing today, and it will continue tomorrow and our enrichment will never stop and this is our red line,”  Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying on Iran’s state-run television.

By Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

The nuclear-related agreement signed between the P5+1 and the Iranian government is, on its face, one-sided.  In essence, according to Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), they get: billions in sanctions relief, 3,000 new centrifuges, a plutonium reactor and enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb. We get, essentially, nothing: no centrifuges dismantled; no uranium shipped out of the country or facilities closed; no delay at the Arak plutonium plant; and no stop to missile testing, terrorism or human rights abuses.  But it is, actually, worse than that.

The administration’s position is that the nuclear deal is separate from any other conversation with Iran, including the fate of Americans imprisoned there. Asked whether retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini were discussed in Geneva, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, “The P5+1 talks focused exclusively on nuclear issues, but we have raised – repeatedly raised [these cases] in our bilateral discussions with Iran.”

In fact, the Obama administration appears to have paved the way to the nuclear talks with two steps in the direction of Iranian interests:

  • Releasing high-value prisoners to Iran; and
  • Separating U.S. demands for access to Iran’s bomb development complex at Parchin (and perhaps other military sites) from the nuclear talks.


American hikers Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were targets of opportunity, captured and imprisoned as spies by Iran in July 2009.  Shourd was released in 2010, Bauer and Fattal in September 2011. As part of an arrangement or not, in 2012, the United States released Iranian prisoners Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan, Nosratollah Tajik, and Amir Hossein Seirafi.  Unlike the Americans, however, the released Iranians were clearly working for the Islamic Republic’s military establishment. Gholikhan had been convicted on three counts of weapons trafficking. Tajik, a former Iranian ambassador to Jordan, was caught attempting to buy night-vision goggles from U.S. agents. Seirafi was convicted of attempting to purchase specialized vacuum pumps that could be used in the Iranian nuclear program.   

It appears the price for the three hikers was three purchasers of illegal weapons for the Iranian government.  The lopsided deal was made considerably odder by the later release of Mojtaba Atarodi, a top Iranian scientist.

The then-secret U.S.-Iranian nuclear talks began in March 2013, after the three-for-three.  In April, according to Kerry Picket at Breitbart News, the U.S.released Atarodi, arrested in 2011 for attempting to acquire equipment that could be used for Iran’s military-nuclear programs. The Atarodi case is very problematic, beginning with why an Iranian scientist was allowed in the U.S.  In cases involving theft of technology, charges are generally public and there is a trial. Atarodi’s arraignment was secret and the U.S. attorney refused to provide any public information.  It appears Atarodi was to have been released to house arrest with electronic monitoring, due to concerns about his health, but the deal fell through and he was kept in a Federal detention facility in California.  There is no information what he was attempting to acquire, but previous cases involving Iran have included very high speed cameras, very high frequency oscilloscopes, and nuclear trigger Krytrons. Atarodi would have been considered a high-value prisoner.  Without further information, Atarodi’s handling and subsequent release amounts to a cover up by the administration intended to pre-pay on the Iran uranium enrichment deal.

Meanwhile, the three Americans Levinson, Hekmati, and Abedini remained in jail in Iran. A balanced deal would have seen these three released. Levinson has been an Iranian prisoner since 2007. Hekmati was sentenced to death as a CIA spy, but while the Iranians set aside the death sentence and decided to have a new trial, it has not taken place. Abedini was sentenced to 8 years in prison for “anti-Iranian activities,” which appears to mean having practiced his Christian faith while in Iran. He is currently housed in a “violent offenders” prison.

The fact that the U.S. negotiators failed to have them released in exchange for Atarodi can be seen as a harbinger of the unbalanced deal to come.  And it came with the Western decision to leave the military facility at Parchin out of any deal with Iran .


The IAEA has been demanding to inspect the Parchin facility near Tehran since 2005, believing the site was used to test explosive triggers for a nuclear device . Satellite photography of Parchin shows the construction of a special explosives containment building that would serve precisely that purpose. Satellite imagery indicates major alterations in the Parchin site, including paving that would diminish “the ability of IAEA inspectors to collect environmental samples and other evidence that it could use to determine whether nuclear weapons-related activities once took place there,” according to the Institute for Science and International Security. 


April 9, 2012 commercial satellite image shows new activity outside a building at the Parchin site in Iran suspected of containing an explosive test chamber used to carry out nuclear weapons-related experiments.  Items can be seen outside the building.  It is not clear what these items are.  The image also shows what appears to be a stream of water emanating from or near the building.  These activities raise concerns that Iran is removing items and washing equipment or the building itself.  (Source ISIS)

That would seem to make it essential even to the strictly nuclear-related conversation the State Department claims it was having with Iran.  But Parchin was not part of the discussion and not part of the deal.  In its “Fact Sheet” the White House alludes to Parchin saying “a number of issues” involving Iran’s compliance with Security Council resolutions need to be resolved including “questions concerning the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program, including Iran’s activities at Parchin.”

The Joint Plan of Action, the official name of the deal with Iran, says nothing about Parchin or about Marivan near the Iraq border, where large-scale nuclear-explosive testing is also reported to have taken place. There are probably dozens of other facilities in Iran where work on nuclear weapons is going on.  None of the military facilities are part of the deal. 


Anything the P5+1 believes it has achieved pales in comparison to what the deal cost.  The West gave permission for Iran to continue uranium enrichment; permitted continued secrecy for a major military-related facility that the international community had demanded to inspect; and acquiesced to continued imprisonment for three Americans caught in the Iranian prison system while Iranians who were part of the nuclear program went free.  And those are only the debits on nuclear-related issues.  If Iran’s human rights nightmare, support for the mass slaughter taking place in Syria, and support for terrorism around the world are factored in, the American pre-payment was a very bad deal for the West.

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