We don’t really want to join the chorus of naysayers who are excoriating the Obama Administration for negotiating a bad agreement with Iran. Face it. President Obama was left with a somewhat limited hand to play by a succession of his predecessors, and he has had pretty limited support from our European allies for playing hardball at the negotiating table.
No, it is not a good deal, but it is, in some respects, a better deal than we had feared it might be. Iran will, after all, reduce its stockpile of enriched nuclear material to a fraction of what it had produced. Nonetheless, it does represent a stark departure from what the United States, Europe and virtually all of the Middle East stakeholders (Arab and Israeli alike) had hoped to see accomplished at the outset of the talks. So chalk one up for the Ayatollah.
In spite of all the rose-garden hype about the historic achievement the agreement represents, Iran dismantles nothing. It merely promises to recalibrate and retask some of its more worrisome facilities and infrastructure, and to substantially reduce its stockpile of enriched material. Metaphorically, Iran is switching its nuclear engine’s gears from drive to idyll or neutral. More ominously, its ballistic missile program was kept off the agenda, as was any discussion of its known research into nuclear detonation technology, and its deadly mischief throughout the region remained nonnegotiable. Iran has amassed an impressive nuclear infrastructure including hardened underground centrifuge complexes, and heavy-water reactors. It has very impressive break-out capability, which it keeps. The p5 +1 had one major negotiating chip short of war – sanctions. We’re lifting them and, in return Iran keeps its nuclear infrastructure and promises to curtail its activity – for a while. Not a terribly impressive outcome.
Ironically, according to Michael Morell, former CIA Deputy Director, we have negotiated Iran out of a robust nuclear energy capability and left them with a pretty robust nuclear weapons capability. Morell explained during a Charlie Rose interview “if you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 (centrifuges) is pretty much the number you need…if you have a (nuclear) power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon.”
The consensus among various nuclear experts concurs with Morell. Matthew Kroenig, Associate Professor at Georgetown University and author of “The Iranian Nuclear Threat: Choices and Consequences,” says Morell “is absolutely correct.” Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security also agree. Professor Matthew Bunn of Harvard University and Co-Principal Investigator of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concurs as well.
“People think surely you must need a bigger enrichment system to make 90 percent enriched material for bombs than to make 4-5 percent enriched material for power reactors,” Bunn said. “But exactly the opposite is true.” Bunn said there are two reasons. First, you need tens of tons of material to fuel a power reactor for a year, but just tens of kilograms to make a bomb. Bottom line: Making bombs takes fewer centrifuges. And without a lot of centrifuges, it’s hard to make nuclear power.
Then there is the matter of Iran’s general threat to the region. While Iran, like America, is fighting ISIS, it is no less a trouble maker in the region. That we would enter into talks with Iran and agree to abandon effective economic sanctions without even addressing the very real and present danger the radical theocratic regime represents to virtually every ally we have in the region is beyond troubling. Indeed, just days before the agreement was inked, Reza Naqdi, who commands the key Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, announced that “erasing Israel from the map is nonnegotiable.”
We hope the Obama administration recognizes that whatever the Israeli’s have to do to keep Iran from wiping their nation off the map is also nonnegotiable. The Basij militia, the reader might recall, were the official thugs who went after the unarmed protestors with such brutal and deadly vengeance after the corrupt 2009 Iranian presidential election.
President Obama’s new mantra that he has expressed directly to the Ayatollah, as well as to the American People, that, essentially, there are those who favor this agreement and those who favor war, is both disingenuous and deceitful. There are also those who would have simply preferred a much better agreement.
As the Wall Street Journal put it:
The truth, contrary to the President, is that the critics of his Iran framework do not want war. But they also don’t want a phony peace to lead to a nuclear Middle East that leads to a far more horrific war a decade from now. That’s why this agreement needs a thorough vetting and genuine debate.
Or, as the Washington Post opined:
Both Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry emphasized that many details need to be worked out in talks with Iran between now and the end of June. During that time, the administration will have much other work to do: It must convince Mideast allies that Iran is not being empowered to become the region’s hegemon; and it must accommodate Congress’s legitimate prerogative to review the accord. We hope President Obama will make as much effort to engage in good faith with skeptical allies and domestic critics as he has with the Iranian regime.
Iran’s nuclear development activity began 60 years ago and we were complicit in its birth. We refer, of course, to the Atom’s for Peace Program, the idea for which was first introduced to the UN general Assembly in 1953 by none other than American President Dwight D. Eisenhower. We supplied information and equipment to friends throughout the world, including our good friend (at the time), the Shah of Iran. An American company built Iran’s first nuclear reactor.
Of course, everything changed after the fall of the Shah and the subsequent revolution in Iran. While the Ayatollahs publically forswore nuclear weapon development, work, of course, continued. Iran’s first nuclear power plant was opened on September 12, 2011 with Russian assistance. Three years ago, our intelligence agencies reported that Iran was pursuing research into weaponization, but saw no evidence that actual weaponization was being attempted.
At about the same time the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had undertaken research and gained experience geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability, but IAEA could not confirm whether that work had continued beyond 2003. What has become clear is that Iran did begin aggressively enriching nuclear material, declaring that its enrichment program was purely for peaceful purposes.
Its acquisition and development of thousands of centrifuges and its construction of at least one heavy water, plutonium-producing reactor makes it clear it has been developing the capability to produce weapons-grade material. That reality, and its support of, and involvement in, terrorist activity throughout the world, and its support of open warfare against American allies such as Yemen, as well as its genocidal threats against Israel make a nuclear-capable Iran a serious threat to American interests.
The American negotiating position has diminished from eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons development, to rolling it back, to, now, essentially holding it in place. Iran is (or is close to being) a nuclear threshold state. Iran has never needed an underground-fortified facility as they have in Fordow to make medical isotopes or to generate electricity. They didn’t need a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor at Arak for any peaceful purpose, nor did they need secret, hidden centrifuges spinning away underground so that more of their people could plug in electric toasters.
No other country in the world, today, overtly advocates the destruction of another country. Only Iran does that. And no other country is openly threatened with annihilation. Only Israel lives with that threat. No other country in the world, today, actively engages in support of terrorism on a worldwide basis. Only Iran does that.
The sanctions we and the other members of the UN Security Council imposed were entirely justified and they were exacting a very heavy toll on Iran. That is why Iran came to the negotiating table in the first place. But as we look at the framework for an agreement announced yesterday, it would appear that Iran has given up little, other than a pause, perhaps for a year, perhaps for ten years.
The die was cast for a weak deal when the President declared at the Center for Middle East Policy last December that Netanyahu’s demand that Iran dismantle its military nuclear capability was “unrealistic.” The alternative to dismantling is, when all is said and done, little more than mothballing that capability. As Dr. Emily Landau, senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and Director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project, says, “Iran will still have everything there to break out and use whenever it wants to.”
While the White House suggests the sanctions that we and the other P5 +1 are lifting can be “snapped back” at the drop of a hat, anyone who has even fifth-grade knowledge of how the UN Security Council works knows that that is just plain nonsense.
Iran gets its economy back, and the rest of the world lives with a nuclear capable Iran that can and, we believe, will continue with its nuclear weaponization at a time of its choosing.