Iran and the world powers will start negotiations on Iran's nuclear plan Tuesday, and Mark Dubowitz, an expert on the sanctions on Iran, claims the Islamic Republic is playing a brilliant chess game while the West is aware of only half the board.
"Iran wants to test Obama's courage and Europe's greed, to see if it can improve its economic situation without relinquishing its 'right' to enriching uranium," he warned in an interview for Ynet.
Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, DC-based think tank which focuses on national security and foreign policy, claimed that "Iran's situation is hard, but not desperate. They can continue on the same path with foreign currency reserves for at least another year.
"Because of the sanctions, Iran has $80 billion lying in foreign banks, 50 of which are in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, all clients of Iranian oil.
"Iran can spend this money only in these countries because of the sanctions leveled against it, but there's a limit to what it's willing to buy there. Meanwhile the money's piling up from further oil profits. Another $20 billion are in Russia, Austria, Switzerland, and maybe also in Malaysia and Georgia. Iran has full access to these funds."
According to Dubowitz, the countries last mentioned "are not willing to enforce the sanctions properly, especially the Russians." He added another $10 billion are stuck in various banks around the world, mainly in Europe, due to concerns of cooperation with the ostracized regime.
"The Iranians have enough money pay for foreign imports. Even though most of the Iranian stores now sell Chinese merchandise instead of German, as they did before, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's will won't break."
According to Dubowitz, this information is the result of the effort of a team of experts and analysts from the Roubini Global Economics firm, which worked together with the FDD and authored a report which describes the flow of money to Iran from over 170 countries.
"Our report has a part that deals with Iranian money that doesn't appear in the books. Beyond the $80 billion I've mentioned, there are tens of billions of dollars we believe are controlled by Khamenei, by the Quds Force commander (the undercover arm of the Revolutionary Guard, which plans attacks abroad) Qasem Soleimani and by additional elements in the regime.
"These are assets, holdings, investments and real estate. It's possible that what we discovered is a drop in the ocean," Dubowitz said.
Sanctions not enough
While the FDD believe the international sanctions dealt Iran a painful blow, they claim they did not change the game – the Tehran regime is not concern by the possibility of an American military action and damage to its nuclear program.
"There's a lot of pressure on the Iranian economy. This is the only reason Iran has agreed to the talks," Dubowitz said. "The sanctions are not as great as they say. So far, they haven't stopped Iran's plan to acquire nuclear arms. The sanctions should have been maximal, to bring Iran's economy to the edge of collapse. They were also supposed to make Khamenei realize he must stop the nuclear program or suffer an economic breakdown that will threaten the regime. We're not even close to that. And every day that goes by, the Iranians are finding loopholes, the sanctions are not enforced, and no new sanctions are promoted."
Over the last few weeks Iran's President Hassan Rohani unleashed what the media termed a "charm offensive," which included moderate remarks and reaching out in peace to the West, especially to the US. Rohani's apparent moderation led the five world powers – the US, Britain, Russia, France and China – together with Germany, to resume the talks with the Islamic Republic.
"Countries around the world are feeling the wind is changing, and they're less afraid of doing business with Iran and of losing future profits due to deals with it," Dubowitz said.
He also warned that "the Obama administration continues to believe the current sanctions are strong enough to fundemantaly change Khamenei's calculations. But the Iranians are entering the negotiations with an advantage. This is based on the fact that every day the centrifuges keep spinning and new ones are installed. The Iranians are stockpiling more uranium and making headway in plutonium production."
On the other side, Dubowitz claimed, "No one believes Obama will attack in Iran. Our only advantage is the sanctions."
The American expert thinks Obama's administration already hinted at what it's willing to give up even before the negotiations began. "Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was asked last week at the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee hearing if the US will object to allowing Iran enrich uranium, and she answered that this is the US's maximal stance. If I sit in Tehran and watch this hearing, I reach the conclusion that this is the US's opening position and that it can be lowered. The result: Iran's stance is that uranium enrichment is its non-negotiable right."
On Sunday, Iran signaled that it will not allow its current stock of enriched uranium to be shipped out of the country as part of any deal. The Iranian negotiation team chief, Abbas Araghchi, said that "The shipping of materials out of the country is our red line."
Iran also said it is prepared to negotiate over "the form, amount, and various levels of (uranium) enrichment," though they will not cease it altogether.
According to Dubowitz, there are many signs that the West is folding in the face of Iran nuclear intransigence.
"We are too desperate for a deal and Iran knows that. Iran has set the negotiation table by declaring that domestic enrichment at 3.5% is nonnegotiable. If we concede to that demand, and imagine that there is a nuclear safeguards arrangement that can stop a hardened regime dedicated to the pursuit of nuclear weapons, then we are in for a rude awakening," he said.
"One day, at a time of its choosing, Iran will test a nuclear device. At that point, all of the sanctions will be gone, and Iran will be a nuclear weapons state with a powerful economy."