Pact: Iran's nuclear agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi (right) and International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano at their meeting in Tehran in November. Photo: AFP
The much-lauded Geneva ''interim'' six-month deal signed by Iran and the P5+1 on November 24 - which was designed to pause Iran's efforts to produce nuclear weapons but was riddled with loopholes - has already stalled.
On December 13, to protest the US Treasury applying existing sanctions against 19 Iranian companies, Iran withdrew its representatives from technical talks aimed at specifying how to implement the interim agreement.
This is a continuation of the long-running Iranian strategy of delaying negotiations while talks go nowhere. It further exposes the flaws in the Geneva arrangement, which amounts to no more than an undertaking by Iran to enter into discussions about limiting, but not stopping, uranium enrichment in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions including access to at least $7 billion in frozen accounts.
Significantly, since November, Iran has not stopped one centrifuge from enriching uranium. This insistence on enrichment cuts to the heart of the matter; the disparity between Tehran's actions and its rhetoric insisting its nuclear program is directed towards securing alternative energy.
The most startling fact about Iran's ''peaceful'' nuclear program is its failure to produce one kilowatt of electricity in two decades.
For a country with the world's third-largest oil reserves, the alternative energy argument has always been suspect. Nuclear electricity generation does not require enrichment, at least 13 nations create nuclear power without enriching uranium. Iran has been repeatedly offered guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies if it will cease enrichment, which violates six UN Security Council resolutions.
Elements missing from the Geneva agreement also undermine claims the program is peaceful. The deal offers no inspections of the Parchin military facility, which the International Atomic Energy Agency has been demanding to inspect for many years.
Parchin is believed to be testing nuclear bomb triggers. If Iran has nothing to hide, why has it strongly and consistently resisted IAEA inspections there?
Backers of the Geneva agreement prefer to focus on the nominal curtailment of Iran's enrichment beyond 5 per cent as a significant concession. Curtailing enrichment to higher levels is a furphy because Iran has already mastered the process and will retain its low-enriched uranium stockpile (which is already adequate for four or five bombs).
Meanwhile, 10,000 of its 19,000 centrifuges enriching uranium will not be turned off. Experts agree the stockpiles and centrifuges Iran will keep allow it to make a bomb core in less than two months. The agreement also does not halt construction of the Arak heavy water plant, which will enable Iran to make weapons-grade plutonium.
To appreciate the weakness of this deal, compare the arrangement to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, which included not only weapons stockpiles but also the infrastructure to manufacture the poison. Iran gets to keep both.
The agreement's weakest aspect is it relies on Iranian good faith. Tehran has a long history of non-compliance disclosing its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it voluntarily signed. Treaty breaches include the 2002 exposure of a secret enrichment plant at Natanz and the Arak facility and, in 2009, revelations of another illegal clandestine facility, the Fordow enrichment plant near Qom.
It is therefore a mystery why anyone would trust Iran to comply with this agreement. The additional inspections Geneva calls for provide absolutely no means to find or inspect any additional secret sites Iran has or may build.
Some championing Iran suggest if Tehran has been trying to produce nuclear weapons in secret, this is a natural reaction to the aggressive posture directed at it by the US and Israel. This is absurd.
Iran's nuclear ambitions started in 1989 in direct response to the conclusion of the eight-year war with neighbour Iraq, not the US or Israel. Yet Iraq today is no threat.
Before the revolution, Israel and Iran enjoyed solid economic, military and political ties. With 1800 kilometres separating the nations, there is not now nor has there ever been any territorial or other material dispute in play. It is purely the radical Islamist anti-Israel ideology at the core of the regime that creates conflict.
The real challenges to Iran's hegemonic ambitions come from its immediate Sunni neighbours. If, as reported, Saudi Arabia has an agreement to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan, then Geneva, if it leads to a final deal, may just have ushered in a nuclear arms race in the most politically fractious region of the world.
Allon Lee is a policy analyst with the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.