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The PRIMER Blog

Make Diplomacy Work with Iran

Alan Stein

Also available on the PRIMER blog at http://primerct.blogspot.com/2015/08/make-diplomacy-work-with-iran.html

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have made many wise observations about Iran's drive to obtain nuclear weapons. These include: It's hard to argue with those sentiments of our leaders.

As Congress prepares to vote on the treaty which was negotiated, our representatives need to consider how it compares to the red lines put forth by the administration and determine whether this deal is better than no deal and whether we will be worse off if Congress accepts or rejects the deal.

Verification:

The IAEA has "anywhere/anytime" access to "declared" nuclear sites, but it only gets "managed" access to undeclared sites, precisely the places where Iran is most likely to cheat. Only if the IAEA suspects non-compliance can it even request access to undeclared sites. If Iran objects, the request ultimately goes to the eight member "Joint Commission," of which Iran is a member. Since Russia and China will almost certainly side with Iran, approval for the inspection will require agreement by the United States, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union. Under EU regulations, that approval can only be given with the unanimous agreement of all 28 member states, many of which will be reluctant to jeopardize lucrative commercial relations with Iran.

Even if we successfully navigate the roadblocks, Iran will have had 24 days to hide the evidence. Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director, has said that while it may be difficult to sanitize a large site in 24 days, that's not the case with small, clandestine sites.

Iran has also clearly stated, JCPOA notwithstanding, it will never grant access to military sites. There are also at least two secret side agreements between Iran and the IAEA - in Senate testimony, even Secretary of State Kerry acknowledged he did not know their details. It's been reported one contains provisions for Iran to give the IAEA soil samples from its Parchin military base. This makes about as much sense as asking a suspected drug user to FedEx a urine sample.

The verification procedures are clearly far from airtight.

Past nuclear activity:

The treaty is ambiguous, although the Obama administration recently said it's unlikely Iran will "admit to having pursued a covert nuclear weapons program, and that such an acknowledgment wasn’t critical to verifying Iranian commitments in the future." ("Lawmakers Say Iran Unlikely to Address Suspicions of Secret Weapons Program," Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2015)

The IAEA has asked Iran twelve questions about its program. Of those questions, Iran has only partially answered one. The agreement is unclear about whether the IAEA will have access to various facilities needed to determine Iran's past activity. The JCPOA states "requests will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities, but will be exclusively for resolving concerns regarding fulfilment of the JCPOA commitments and Iran's other non-proliferation and safeguards obligations." This gives Iran an excuse to use whenever it wants to deny any access to the IAEA.

It's unclear whether there will be any consequences if Iran doesn't come clean, but without a detailed, reliable knowledge of Iran's past activity, it will be difficult to determine when Iran cheats in the future.

Sanctions relief:

Virtually all the nuclear-related sanctions will be end in an estimated six to nine months, when the IAEA verifies Iran's implementation of certain nuclear-related measures. With the elimination of restrictions on its access to financial accounts, Iran will have an estimated $150 billion "signing bonus."

Iran will not only get relief from sanctions imposed because of its illicit nuclear weapons program. Under the JCPOA, the international arms embargo for conventional weapons will be ended within five years and restrictions on Iran's ballistic missiles will be gone after no more than eight years. Russia has already lifted its self-imposed ban on the sale to Iran of its sophisticated S-300 missile and is reportedly modernizing the system.

Annexes to the agreement contain long lists of individuals and businesses previously sanctioned for violating United Nations resolutions, including terrorists responsible for the murder of American citizens, who will be freed from those sanctions.

Iran is being richly rewarded for its illicit nuclear weapons program, giving an incentive to other countries to violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

If Iran violates the agreement, there is an elaborate, 60 day long, bureaucratic procedure which must be followed before sanctions can be reimposed. As with inspections, approval by five of the eight members of the Joint Commission would be required. Because Iran, Russia and China would almost certainly oppose the reimposition of sanctions, getting the other five votes would require unanimous agreement of all 28 members of the EU.

This clearly is not an automatic "snap back."

But it's much worse than that: any contracts Iran has negotiated in the meantime would be grandfathered in, making the reimposed sanctions meaningless.

Closing off every pathway to a nuclear arsenal:

Rather than dismantling its nuclear infrastructure, Iran is merely required to mothball most of its centrifuges. Arguing Iran will only be permitted to use some of its centrifuges, the Obama administration boasts Iran's "breakout time" will increase from a current 2-3 months to a year. One can be certain Iran will quickly reconnect those centrifuges when it decides to break the agreement and sprint to a bomb, so its breakout time would really be no longer than now. Other provisions of the agreement actually shorten it.

We are committed to help Iran modernize its nuclear infrastructure, with the result Iran will have more efficient centrifuges ready to spin. We are also required to help Iran secure its nuclear infrastructure, making it much harder for others to protect the world from an Iranian bomb.

Instead of an enduring agreement, or one whose termination depends on a fundamental change in Iranian behavior, many of the important restrictions on Iran will end in a decade and almost all will be terminated within fifteen years. President Obama has said Iran's breakout time will effectively vanish in thirteen years. We've been trying to stop Iran for much longer than that already.

Iran even has the right to back out of the agreement at any time. It just has to claim non-performance by the other parties, go through a bureaucratic charade and then say it's not satisfied with the result.

Most likely, Iran will adhere to most of its obligations long enough to get its $150 billion signing bonus, watch the sanctions collapse, have its economy recover and put in place enough contracts to make the "snap back" of sanctions meaningless. It may adhere long enough to take advantage of our technical assistance to substantially modernize and secure its nuclear infrastructure. When it feels it has benefitted sufficiently, Iran will come up with a pretext for backing out of the agreement.

When that time comes, Iran will be far better positioned than it is today, with a breakout time close to zero. If we tried to rebuild the sanctions regime, we'd be starting from scratch, with Iran able to present us with a fait accompli and have a massive nuclear arsenal before the sanctions can have any effect.

The bad behavior of Iran goes far beyond its nuclear weapons program and the fact that, for many of its leaders, including the Mahdists who believe they can bring about the messianic era by destroying the world, what was referred to during the Cold War as "mutual assured destruction" is an incentive rather than a deterrent.

Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and a prime mover behind the explosive volatility of the Middle East. It has been the leading, indispensable funder of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and numerous other terror groups which have murdered thousands of civilians, including Americans.

The economic bonanza it will receive with the lifting of sanctions will not only make its economy almost immune to the reimposition of sanctions, but will greatly increase its ability to fund terror groups and further destabilize the Middle East. The treaty will also strengthen the stranglehold of the ayatollahs on Iran, ensuring Iran will remain an enemy of America and the rest of the civilized world for many more years.

The JCPOA is being handled as an executive agreement rather than as a treaty. Congress is now studying it and must vote by September 17. For most members of Congress, this will be the most important vote they will ever make. While listening respectfully to the arguments of both supporters and critics, they must determine for themselves whether this agreement makes the world a safer place or a more dangerous place.

If they do that, they are bound to come to the conclusion that this bad deal is worse than no deal.

They must judge the deal. And history will judge them.



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