- - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

For more than a decade, Iran has successfully bought time from its nuclear detractors by negotiating in bad faith as it worked feverishly to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran now has bought six more months.

As I have reported many times, the regime’s strategists have always thought that the more their nuclear program is expanded, the less likely the West could demand its total dismantlement and that the Obama administration’s threat of a military option is a bluff. The worst the West could do would be to impose economic sanctions, they felt. They also thought that at some point, the West would come to accept Iran’s nuclear program at some level and reverse the sanctions.

The regime’s strategists have been proven correct.

An interim deal reached Sunday in Geneva between the Islamic Republic and the “P5+1” world powers (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France — plus Germany) in reality accepted the Iranian nuclear program, allowing the continuation of enrichment with more than 10,000 centrifuges despite six U.N. Security Council resolutions for Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment. The Geneva agreement calls on Iran to curtail only parts of its nuclear program in return for the easing of some sanctions.

Those sanctions — from the U.N., the United States and the European Union — had all but brought the mullah-dominated nation to its knees economically. Inflation is rampant, unemployment skyrocketing and civil unrest boiling below the surface.

Now, pressure will ease that financial disaster for six months, giving the regime more time to achieve nuclear-armed status. On Monday, Iran announced that as part of the deal, the United States has unfrozen $8 billion of its assets.

What are we to accomplish in the next six months in return? The radical leaders ruling Iran have been quite clear that enrichment will never stop.

President Reagan famously used the Russian proverb “Trust but verify” in dealing with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It worked. That phrase was only partly invoked in Sunday’s agreement, though.

Granted, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) may now oversee nuclear-enrichment activity at Fordow and Natanz. However, the agreement does not include inspection of other suspected sites, including a secret site only 15 miles from Fordow, where, according to sources, Iran’s most sophisticated lab is developing nuclear weapons and endeavoring to marry them up to delivery systems. Right next door to that secret lab is a vast area housing ballistic-missile silos.

Certainly, Iran has agreed to halt work on its plutonium plant at Arak, where a second path to nuclear arms could be opened, but the agreement does not permit inspection. Trust us, Tehran told the P5+1. Trust has to be earned, not granted on demand.

Yes, the IAEA monitors will have free access to important nuclear sites but not to the Parchin military site, where the regime has conducted illicit nuclear experiments. It has been trying to cover up evidence of those banned nuclear tests so the world will not have proof of its deceit.

Iran says it wants to develop nuclear energy as a source of national pride. No nation would accept those crushing sanctions for pride. More deceit.

Iran says it wants to have nuclear energy for self-sufficiency. It already has more than enough oil for domestic consumption and is exporting it. It could have all the nuclear energy it needs for much less cost from foreign sources. More deceit.

No, what Iran really wants is to become a nuclear-armed power so it has the means to bring about the destruction of Israel and dominate the region. Israel and Western-allied Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia have formed an unlikely alliance in opposing Sunday’s agreement, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “historic mistake.”

Indeed, it most certainly is. Iran is playing the same game that helped North Korea acquire nuclear weapons.

The Islamic republic has negotiated over its illicit nuclear program with the United States and the world powers for more than a decade, during which time it has successfully increased the number of centrifuges enriching uranium from 150 to more than 19,000 today. It now has more than 10 tons of low-enriched uranium — sufficient for several bombs — and has more than 1,000 ballistic missiles. In collaboration with North Korea, it is working on intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The deal has been struck — at least for six months — and the world powers won’t go back on it, a deal that leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure largely in place. The mullahs will use the extra time to continue on their path to becoming a nuclear power. Once they achieve that goal, they think, the West must accept it as a fait accompli.

Congress must also use the next six months to work on even harsher sanctions, ready to slap on the regime once it is clear that the clerics have played us for fools again. Then those sanctions must be kept in place until “Trust but verify” is replaced with “Dismantle and destroy.”

Or until the freedom-loving people of Iran have had enough of their dictators and rid the land of their scourge.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and author of “A Time to Betray” (Simon & Schuster, 2010).