Mixed Feelings about the Iran Nuclear Deal
April 5, 2015
Last Thursday the Group 5 + 1 and Iran agreed a policy framework intended to reach a diplomatic solution for the controversial Iranian nuclear program. The established parameters, which must be concreted in a final agreement by June 30, limit the ability of Iran to enrich uranium during a period of 10 years. As a counterpart, the deal would mean the end of international sanctions that have affected for years the Iranian economy and its foreign trade.
The great powers seek to delay as much as possible the time required for Iran to obtain sufficient weapons-grade uranium to manufacture an atomic bomb. To that end, the deal sets an environment in which Iran, in the best of cases, would last one year to get such material. This timeframe is seen as a big advance versus the current situation with an estimate of three months for Iran to reach its breakout capability.
Consequently, the agreement would also lead to improve the efficiency of controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Although Tehran has always declared the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, there have been over the years many violations to its international safeguards commitments as a State Party of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The IAEA’s inspections that the country must accept were affected more than once by evident lack of cooperation, in addition the Fordow enrichment facility was illegally kept in the dark and only declared once it was discovered by the foreign intelligence. Moreover, the nuclear Agency alerted about the possible "military dimensions" of the Iranian nuclear program.
The pre-agreement has divided the waters in the international community. It was received with relief by the negotiating powers and with joy in Iran where it is perceived as a clear diplomatic success. However, many voices around the world have stated their concerns.
The difference in both approaches is clear: while the most severe positions claim that Iran must fully surrender uranium enrichment activities (and spent fuel reprocessing that also enables the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons), the actual negotiation has been focused on reductions in numbers of centrifuges and in enrichment levels, for a limited time, and also on enhanced international controls of the nuclear program. It implies for the Islamic Republic to keep its capabilities to develop sensitive technologies as well as its facilities which is seen as an unacceptable concession to the Iranian persistence and therefore as a sign of unprecedented weakness by the P5+1.
Such controversy has also dominated the political arena in the United States where significant differences about the strategy and content of the negotiation have emergedbetween the Obama administration and the opposition.
Last March three relevant facts served to highlight those disagreements: a. The Republicans gave space to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a plenary of both Chambers in the US Congress on Israel’s objections about the deal. b. After that, 47 Republican Senators signed a letter to the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani where they emphasized the required approval by the US Congress of any international commitment taken by the White House. This unusual letter was read as a way to thwart Obama’s strategy during the negotiations. c. Finally, a bi-partisan statement by 80% of the members of the House of Representatives raised concern about the progress of the negotiations and alerted about the need of a lasting settlement able to restrict Iran’s nuclear infrastructure as well as its pathways to a bomb.
Countries that are regionally affected by a possible Iran with nuclear weapons, such as Saudi Arabia and the monarchies of the Gulf, as well as Israel, have also raised their voices of dissatisfaction with the deal. Netanyahu for example called for a solution better than either the bad agreement or the war, and he proposed to firmly keep the sanctions until getting a more favorable attitude from Tehran. Once again the main concern is that the agreement would let Iran keep the majority of its enrichment infrastructure in place.
Given the narrow margin of action that the international community currently has to stop horizontal proliferation and also to give a categorical resolution to the dilemma posed by the Iran’s nuclear program, the deal seems to be the least worst option.
Today it is materially impossible any use of force to halt a nuclear program which has been firmly stated as "peaceful" and which, at the same time, it is carefully protected. Not less important, Iran is now a key element of containment of the ISIS, in both Iraq and Syria and therefore, and shares strong interests with the Western powers.
It is clear that there are many questions to answer and challenges to overcome until the end of June when the final deal should be closed. There are many things on the table, not only in terms of its complex technical issues but also of its effectiveness to prevent a nuclear armed Iran. The coming three months will be very difficult. Meanwhile, both sides seek to gain time. And time in this case, clearly plays on the side of the Islamic Republic.