Dr. Ephraim Kam
Deal makes Iran stronger than ever
The understandings reached between the world powers and Iran are not the last word. The important document will be the final agreement, which is expected to be drawn up by the end of June. It looks like it will encounter difficulties, and on both sides there are important players who object to the deal. But in light of the understandings reached thus far, and both sides' attempts to render them into the final document, it's hard to assume that they will stop before it's signed.
A comparison between each side's opening position and the principles of the understanding underscores the importance of what Iran has achieved. At the start, the Americans presented a series of demands: a stop to uranium enrichment; the closure of the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo as well as the plutonium reactor at Arak; the removal of uranium enriched at 3.5% from Iran; a stop to enriching uranium to 20% and the destruction of the stockpile enriched to that level; disclosure of Iran's military plans to develop nuclear weapons; and a demand that the talks also include Iran's ballistic missile program. The memorandum of understanding shows that the Iranians got their way on most of the issues. Enrichment will continue; no facility will be closed, although significant changes will be made to two of them; the stocks of enriched uranium will not be removed from Iran; and the country's missile program wasn't discussed. Nevertheless, Iran agreed early on to stop enriching uranium to 20% and to cut back the number of centrifuges in operation, although it was not required to stop its research and development of centrifuges.
The importance of the results of the talks is that Iran will be recognized as a country on the brink of nuclear capability. Although its nuclear program is slated to be halted for about a decade, and in some points will even regress, both the cessation and the regression are reversible should Iran decide to move ahead. It will therefore preserve its ability to produce a nuclear weapon in short order, if and when it decides to do so, in violation of the deal. Moreover, the Americans hesitated about how long it would take Iran to develop nuclear weapons through amassing enriched uranium that could be turned into fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. The assessment was that today, Iran is two months away from that breakthrough. They intend to stretch that period to a year, assuming that a year would suffice to identify the breakthrough and take steps to stop it. But in practice, it is doubtful that a year would be enough in light of the time it would take for the intelligence community to identify the development, attempt to persuade Iran to refrain from making it, and take action to stop it.
Additional difficulties: Iran demanded that the deal be limited to a few years, after which the limitations on its nuclear program would be removed and it would be allowed to do what it wants. The Americans agreed to the idea of removing the limitations, but demanded that they would expire after being in place for at least a decade. Their demand was agreed to. Iran in turn demanded that the economic sanctions currently in place be lifted as soon as the agreement is signed, but the Western governments wanted to remove them in stages, after Iran proves that it is living up to its end of the deal. It's unclear what was agreed upon.
Finally, it's unclear how oversight of Iran's nuclear program will be increased after Iran has thus far wriggled out of supplying information about the military aspects of the program -- to the point where the International Atomic Energy Agency head said he could not confirm that Iran did not have a military nuclear program. Iran has come out of the deal in a new position. The sanctions against it will be removed and governments and private companies will rush to do business with it. Its regional status will be bolstered when its involvement in neighboring countries -- Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip -- is already unprecedented. Iran becoming a state on the verge of nuclear capability could prompt other countries to follow suit. And the American administration is hoping that it will be able to cooperate with it to stabilize the region, but it's doubtful that that's what Iran has in mind. Its foremost regional goal is still to weaken the U.S. in the Middle East.
Will Iran take advantage of the loopholes in the deal to develop nuclear weapons? Its ultimate interest in acquiring nuclear weapons has not diminished, and we can assume that its attempts to do so will continue despite the agreement. The likely possibility is that Iran will not rush to reach a nuclear bomb in the next few years so as not to destroy what it gained in the deal and be punished severely. But when the restrictions are lifted about a decade from now, Iran could attempt to achieve nuclear weapons capability -- possibly at a new, secret facility -- hoping to present the world with a fait accompli.
It appears Iran is telegraphing its intended breaches of the agreement in advance.
Published: April 8th, 2015
Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif and nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told a closed-door Iranian parliament session on Tuesday morning that as soon as the nuclear deal is in effect Iran will begin using the advanced IR-8 centrifuges, according to the Iranian FARS agency.
Iran would start by injecting UF6 gas into those latest generation centrifuges.
The US claims the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran requires that those centrifuges be put in storage and not used.
Iran also plans to release its own “fact sheet” detailing the Iranian narrative of the Lausanne negotiations.
Yesterday, President Obama said that the Iranians would have zero breakout time 13 years after the deal was signed. That statement assumed they don’t breach the agreement earlier, as they’ve just made clear they will.