Apr 06 2015

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The Deal With Iran

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America's New Best Friend?

America’s New Best Friend?

Congratulations to the P5+1 for reaching a framework agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

To their credit, the negotiators have developed a document that tangibly restricts the Iranian nuclear program by reducing operational centrifuges used to enrich uranium, converts nuclear facilities for research and development purposes only, redesigns a plutonium reactor so that it cannot create weapons grade nuclear material, requires that Iran ship 97 percent of its current stock of uranium outside the country, and provides the foundation for rigorous inspections of all stages of the Iranian nuclear supply chain.

As of today, most analysts believe that Iran will have enough fissile material to construct a nuclear weapon within 60-90 days.  The framework achieved in Lausanne is designed to dial back that “nuclear break out” period to a year; sufficient, policymakers say, for the world powers to detect Iranian subterfuge and take corrective actions against the Iranian regime.

That is not an insubstantial accomplishment.

But the question remains, is this a good deal – both from the perspective of the substance of the framework, as well as the  impact of the accord on broader US policy interests in the Middle East?

The answer is decidedly mixed, based on five more complex dimensions.

The Accord Tacitly Ratifies Iran as a “Candidate” Nuclear Weapons State: nothing about the existing Iranian nuclear infrastructure is consistent with a “peaceful” nuclear program. A nation interested only in electricity and research and development for medical purposes does not require 19,000 centrifuges and 11 tons of enriched (but not bomb quality) uranium.

More importantly, any genuine, civil nuclear program would not need the 6,000 operational centrifuges that the Lausanne accord allows Iran. Indeed, Iran would not need to continue to enrich uranium at all, but the accord provides Iran with this continuing capability.

If the program was for peaceful purposes only, centrifuges and infrastructure in excess of what was required for peaceful purposes would be destroyed, not put in cold storage or converted to another associated purpose, as is stipulated in the Lausanne accord. If this were a civil program, there would be no need for Iran to keep nearly 700 pounds of low, enriched uranium, but the Lausanne accord allows this as well.

In a sign of how far the world has tilted toward the Iranian view, consider that in 2006, the UN Security Council approved resolution 1737, which implemented an asset freeze unless Iran suspended its enrichment and reprocessing activities. In 2015, the Lausanne accord formalizes Iran’s ability to conduct some of these very same activities while paving the way to lift those original sanctions.

It is nothing short of astonishing.

For other, nuclear threshold countries that are looking on, Iran just established an internationally recognized path to a nuclear weapon.

The Success of the Accord Relies Solely on the Efficacy of Verification: since none of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is destroyed under the terms of the accord, the very premise of the agreement rests on the ability of UN inspectors to detect any cheating. The accord calls for robust and intrusive inspections, but the expectations for success of this protocol should be considered against the cautionary tale of UN inspections with Iraq and North Korea. Indeed, as the Lausanne accord was being formalized, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran had not provided previously required information on its nuclear program.

It also bears mentioning that the Lausanne accord can cover only what is known about the Iranian nuclear program. To the extent that the Iranians have been able to hide or disguise elements of the program from Western intelligence, and these elements have not been subject to accord limitations, they will continue.

The P5+1 are necessarily putting all their eggs in one basket as the agreement is only serviceable as long as it is verifiable.

Sanctions Relief is Unlikely to be Reversible:  the White House Fact Sheet on the Lausanne accord states, “US and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.”

That is more hope than reality.

It took the Europeans half a decade to implement truly consequential economic sanctions on Iran, including and oil embargo and eliminating Iranian access to the international financial transaction system, SWIFT, which has crippled the Iranian economy. With a signed deal in June, European companies will be pressing hard for termination of sanctions so that they can engage the Iranian market. Access to SWIFT and renewed oil markets alone will substantially benefit Iranian companies and the economy as a whole.

No matter what triggers are eventually included in a final deal, the political reality is that only a catastrophic Iranian breach of the agreement is likely to lead to sanctions being reinstituted, at which point, it will in all likelihood, be too late. As with Saddam in the 1990s, it will be “minor” or “technical” breaches that are collectively consequential, but not enough separately to trigger a reaction.

Sanctions Relief Deprives the West of Strategic Leverage: from a regional foreign policy perspective, the targeted nuclear sanctions on Iran have served US policy well beyond the narrow nuclear issue.

The systemic impact of the sanctions on the Iranian economy writ large has served as a de facto consequence for Iranian support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, its continued support for Syrian dictator Assad, as well as its regional mischief-making in Yemen and Iraq. An agreement on the specific nuclear issue, places this de facto consequence in reverse.

Iran will benefit from renewed engagement with the global economy, and the windfall in economic growth and profits it will create, with no tangible consequences for its continued support for aggression and terrorism. There is no international consensus on Iranian international conduct, thus the likelihood of any economic penalty on Iran for its activities will be limited to the US.

In return for ceding nothing more than a pause in their nuclear weapons development, the Iranian regime receives relief from a host of economic sanctions that are a genuine threat to their economy and the long-term viability of the government, while the West loses its leverage on the full portfolio of Iranian misdeeds.

The West is playing checkers while the Iranians are playing chess.

Iran is Not a “Partner in Peace”: the foundation and evolution of the Obama administration’s thought on a nuclear accord with Iran has been premised on the notion that if the two nations could just get beyond the mistrust of the last 35 years, they could begin a process resulting in a more or less normal international relationship based on shared responsibilities, with trust accrued through reciprocal good deeds.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Iranian government is a revolutionary regime. Hostility to the United States and everything it represents is a foundational element of the regime’s legitimacy. The mullahs can no more reconcile with the United States than they can with Israel, the nation-state that every Iranian government since 1979 has vowed to destroy. To do so would undermine everything that the 1979 revolution against modernity has represented.

To that end, Iran is not interested in being a member in good standing of the international community. Indeed, it is dedicated to overthrowing the existing world order in favor of a Shia Muslim world view,  even as it simultaneously benefits from its rules and protocols of the free market, American-led, global economy and its multilateral institutions.

The sober fact is that Iran’s interests in the Middle East are antithetical to those of the United States, as Iran seeks to support Shia Muslim control from Iran to the Mediterranean and beyond. Today’s Iranian leadership are the inheritors of a great Persian legacy that once controlled an empire greater in size than that of Rome. Iranian ambitions are no less grand today, as they wage proxy wars, assassinate opponents, undermine governments and build intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the Europe and the United States.

Far from a partner in peace, Iran represents a direct threat to American allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Gulf states. Far from a force of stability in the Middle East,  the Iranian regime represents the essence of what is destabilizing in the Middle East. The illusion that Iran will moderate if only the US treats the nation with respect is one of the most dangerous misconceptions of an Obama foreign policy that has yet to get a single issue right.

So is the Lausanne accord a bad deal?

Properly enforced as designed, no.

But is it the right deal?

Also no.

For all of Obama administration’s self-congratulation on the accord, it is the Iranians who won convincingly here, tactically and strategically. The Iranian regime was not humbled but emboldened.

If an agreement is concluded in June, the Iranian nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, if partially frozen. Indeed, the international community will have sanctioned enrichment and possession of enriched uranium as a right. Sanctions will be eased and eventually eliminated, removing the most significant threat to the regime’s stability, while a reckless Iranian foreign policy continues unchecked.

The most likely outcome from the agreement is not a more peaceful and stable Middle East, but a more dangerous and unstable region. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will all now have to assess how they will adapt to Iran’s new status after this accord, and whether they too need nuclear weapons to establish a balance of power, creating a new, nuclear arms race.

Which leads to a stark if inescapable conclusion. At its heart, it is not the Iranian nuclear program that is the existential threat to the region – it is the Iranian regime. As long as the Mullahs are in power, they represent a clear and present danger to the US and its allies and interests.

No agreement, no matter how detailed, can change that fundamental fact.








1 comment

  1. Mike Wilson

    I remember 1979 when Iran became a 4 letter word. Israel is right. Allowing Iran to continue with ANY capability of enriching uranium is an enormous mistake. Believing ANY words or agreements with these savages will lead to our children and grandchildren to rue the day that America put the puppet Obama in office with Valerie Jarrett,, the Iranian muslim , pulling the strings. Congress ust stop this insanity at all costs.

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