Why the Long-Term Fate of an Iran Nuclear Deal Rests With . . . IranBy STEPHEN SESTANOVICH
May 29, 2015 3:59 PM
When 47 Republican senators wrote to Iran’s supreme leader in March, warning that future Congresses and presidents could reverse a deal between Iran and the Obama administration, many people criticized their letter. For some, it was bad taste; for others, bad politics. But was it bad analysis? Politico has published a related piece by two former George W. Bush administration officials, Eric Edelman and Robert Joseph, and my Council on Foreign Relations colleague (and fellow WSJ Think Tank contributor) Ray Takeyh. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei should read what they say. With just a month left for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, the long-term viability of any agreement could depend on it.
Mr. Edelman, Mr. Joseph, and Mr. Takeyh look to history to explore how and when U.S. presidents renounce arms-control deals that their predecessors negotiated. They find three relevant cases: the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (from which George W. Bush withdrew in 2001), the 1979 SALT-II treaty (which Ronald Reagan said in 1986 that he would stop observing), and the 1994 Agreed Framework With North Korea (which the U.S. repudiated in the face of Pyongyang’s cheating in 2002).
Clearly, the United States does rethink the pros and cons of existing agreements. But the real lesson for Ayatollah Khamenei is not that Washington is an unreliable partner. It’s that the fate of a deal depends primarily on Iran—and whether it is a reliable partner.
Look at what finally undid these agreements. Reagan didn’t like the SALT-II treaty but observed it for more than five years. Ultimately, Soviet cheating gave opponents of the treaty a trump card. Mr. Bush, too, would have stuck with a North Korea deal that he didn’t like, but Kim Jong Il made that impossible. In the late 1990s, Russian negotiators rejected a stream of U.S. ideas to adjust the ABM treaty to a world of new ballistic-missile threats. Had Moscow reacted differently, there might still be a treaty.
The message for Iran’s supreme leader? As he tells his diplomats how to handle the last phase of talks, he should know that the one factor most likely to trigger U.S. withdrawal, now or later, is doubt about the other side’s good faith. Washington can live for a long time with agreements it doesn’t like, but fears of cheating are hard to put to rest. (That’s why Saddam Hussein is no longer running Iraq.)
News reports suggest that Iranian negotiators have been instructed to haggle endlessly about what inspectors will be allowed to do and see. Tehran may well make it easier to keep some things hidden. But if it does, chances are that somewhere down the road an American president is going to reconsider the deal.
Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of “Maximalist: America in the World From Truman to Obama.” He is on Twitter: @ssestanovich.
John Kerry ‘Wished US Had Leader’ Like Khamenei, Iranians Say
By Drew MacKenzie
Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 07:58 AM
Secretary of State John Kerry allegedly told his Iranian counterpart that he wished the U.S. had a head of state more like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
Citing remarks from a senior Iranian cleric that were broadcast in the country’s state-run media, Kerry reportedly told Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during nuclear negotiations between the two powers that he “wished the U.S. had a leader like Iran’s supreme leader.”
The claim came from senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Alam al-Hoda, according to a Persian-language report on the remarks published by the Asriran news site, which said that the comments were made during Friday prayer services.
“In the negotiations Kerry told Zarif that he wished the U.S. had a leader like Iran’s supreme leader,” according to al-Hoda, who is a senior member of the Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts, the Beacon reported.
But a senior U.S. administration official told the Beacon that such a notion was utterly ridiculous.
Meanwhile, Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iranian dissident at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has claimed that the U.S. “overtures” to Iran at the nuclear bargaining table have failed to win America any respect from the Islamic Republic’s leaders.
“President Obama thinks that by making more concessions he can gain the trust and respect of Iranian leaders,” Ghasseminejad said. “However, Iranian leaders neither trust him nor respect him.
“Seeing unprecedented weakness in the U.S. president, Iranian leaders do not fear the United States anymore. Partnership, trust, and alliance between the radical Islamist regime of Tehran and United States cannot and should not exist.”
According to the Fars News Agency, Zarif said over the weekend that fighting between the Obama administration and Congress over a potential final deal could not prevent the U.S. from carrying out any final agreement the White House signs.
“As we have stated since the beginning, we consider the U.S. administration responsible for implementing the agreement, and internal problems and conflicts in the U.S. are not related to us and to the implementation of the agreement,” Zarif said.
“Based on the international laws, the countries’ internal problems don’t exempt them from implementing their undertakings and this is the main framework that we attach importance to,” he said.
John Kerry to Iran, reportedly: Barack Obama is great and all, but he’s no Ayatollah Khamenei
posted at 1:21 pm on April 29, 2015 by Noah Rothman
As backhanded compliments go, this latest via Secretary of State John Kerry is a remarkable achievement.
Despite the Islamic Republic of Iran’s destabilizing regional agenda — including its support for Houthi rebels in Iran, its backing of Hezbollah in Lebanon, its aid to Islamist militants in Syria, and its command of Shiite proxies in Iraq – the White House has bent over backwards to court the mullahs in order to advance the prospect of a legacy-saving nuclear accord.
If Iranian sources are to be believed, and there is every reason to be skeptical of Iranian sources, Islamic Republic officials are not merely targets of courting from Washington but also of obsequious flattery.
Ayatollah Alam al-Hoda claimed during Friday prayer services in Iran that in negotiations over Tehran’s contested nuclear program, Kerry told the country’s foreign minister that he “wished the U.S. had a leader like Iran’s supreme leader,” according to a Persian-language report on the remarks published by the Asriran news site.
“In the negotiations Kerry told [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif that he [Kerry] wished U.S. had a leader like Iran’s supreme leader,” according to Alam al-Hoda, who is a senior member of the Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts.
“A senior administration official told the Washington Free Beacon that such a contention is patently absurd,” the dispatch added.
Yes, it is absurd. And it’s unlikely to be an accurate reflection of Kerry’s remarks. Although, it is within the realm of possibility to believe that the secretary of state’s diplomatic courtesies might have gone a bit too far.
It is not, however, beyond the pale to note that American nuclear negotiators have gone to great lengths to give the Ayatollah whatever he wanted and more. “The Ayatollah knows that Mr. Obama wants an agreement with Iran so much that there’s almost no concession the President won’t make,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board observed on April 19. “So why not keep asking for more?”
Keep in mind that the talks began with the U.S. and its European partners demanding that Iran dismantle its nuclear program. But to persuade the Ayatollah to accept the recent “framework” accord, Mr. Obama has already conceded that Iran can keep enriching uranium, that it can maintain 5,060 centrifuges to do the enriching, that its enriched-uranium stockpiles can stay inside Iran, that the once-concealed facilities at Fordow and Arak can stay open (albeit in altered form), and that Iran can continue doing research on advanced centrifuges.
All of these concessions are contrary to previous U.S. positions, and we’re no doubt missing a few. But none of that was enough for the Ayatollah, who quickly asserted two new deal-breaking objections: immediate sanctions relief, and no inspections under any circumstances of Iran’s military sites.
If Kerry did unfavorably compare Barack Obama to Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah did not return the favor. In reaction to the civil unrest in the city of Baltimore, Khamenei pressed the United States and the president to address America’s human rights abuses. No, really!
“It’s ridiculous that even though US President is black, still such crimes against US blacks continue to occur,” read a statement released on Khamenei’s Twitter account accompanied with the hashtags “#BlackLivesMatter” and “#FreddieGray.”
“On false pretexts US police shoots ppl on streets. This is a type of power which doesn’t ensure security but leads to insecurity. #MikeBrown,” read another tweet in what became a full-fledged rant.
“Power & tyranny are different. In some countries like US, police are seemingly powerful but they kill innocents. #FreddieGray #RekiaBoyd,” a third tweet in the storm read. “Even abolition of #slavery in #US wasn’t based on humanitarian intents but on North-South wars & conflict b/t landowners & industrialists.”
For a nation that summarily executes those suspected of homosexuality, forbids free association, routinely arrests journalists, holds Americans for ransom, and brutally represses dissent via the paramilitary Basij, these are some bold statements. Maybe John Kerry will have something to say about Iran’s human rights record. After a nuclear deal has been finalized, of course.
Look at gains from Iran deal
Iran and its six negotiating partners have, at long last, agreed on the key parameters of a final deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program. On the basis of the understanding announced in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday, the parties will have three months to fill in the technical details of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
This breakthrough political understanding between the United States, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, and the Islamic Republic of Iran promises to become one of the most consequential and far-reaching nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades.
Once fully negotiated and launched, this deal will block off the options Iran currently has for moving quickly to build nuclear weapons. And the benefits of the deal will extend beyond the particulars of preventing an Iranian bomb. It will also strengthen the worldwide authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in implementing safeguards on the peaceful development of nuclear energy and give impetus toward the goal of universality in enhanced verification measures such as the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol.”
In an ideal world, neither Iran nor any other non-nuclear-weapons state would be allowed to possess a complete nuclear-fuel cycle. But Iran is a proud and independent nation, which has had a robust nuclear infrastructure for years. Moreover, its population is solidly behind its nuclear program – a program described by its government as purely peaceful. In the real world, a ban on uranium enrichment cannot be negotiated with Iran; it would have to be imposed.
Iran has suffered serious economic damage from years of sanctions and political damage from international isolation as a result of U.N. resolutions. Yet it gives no indication of being anywhere near capitulation. As New York Times columnist Roger Cohen recently put it, Iran “would rather starve than cave.”
There is therefore no point in pursuing what former National Security Council official Gary Sick calls a “unicorn” solution – something that does not exist in the real world. It is time for the critics of diplomacy to acknowledge that the alternative to the kind of deal that Thursday’s announcement foreshadows is no deal at all.
Accordingly, the effects of the deal need to be compared with the effects of its absence. A deal would:
Establish verifiable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. Without it, Tehran’s expansion of enrichment capacity would be unconstrained.
Establish caps on the number and type of uranium-enrichment centrifuges for 10 years. Without it, Iran would soon be able to employ much more efficient centrifuge designs.
Cap uranium enrichment at the 3.67 percent level needed for nuclear-energy reactors. Without it, Iran will be able to enrich to the 90-plus percent level needed for nuclear weapons.
Establish low limits on enriched-uranium stockpiles for 15 years. The lack of a deal implies growth in uranium stockpiles starting this year, including 20 percent-enriched uranium, which Iran was accumulating before the 2013 interim agreement.
End uranium enrichment at Iran’s deep underground facility at Fordow for at least 15 years. Without it, Iran could soon increase its enrichment activity there.
Result in modifications to the Arak heavy-water reactor so that it would produce far less weapons-grade plutonium and retain none of it. Without it, Arak would soon be able to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium each year for two bombs.
Allow intrusive, short-notice inspections and enhanced monitoring by the IAEA in perpetuity. Without it, the transparency of Iran’s nuclear program would be reduced, increasing the chance that Iran could successfully conduct a clandestine nuclear-weapons program.
At least quadruple the time required for Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. Without it, the time it would take Iran to produce enough material for one bomb would shrink to a matter of weeks.
Offer Iran positive incentives to comply with restrictions. Without it, powerful hard-line elements in the regime would continue to make money off of sanction-busting activities.
It has taken many months of intensive negotiations to find a formula for delivering the benefits enumerated above. It will take additional weeks to nail down the complicated details of implementation.
Giving up the ideal solution has been painful for parties on both sides. But it is now time for taking a sober look at what can be gained from a deal and what can be lost without one.
The outline of a landmark nuclear deal between a US-led group of countries and Iran is coming into focus.
According to the AP, Iran will be able to keep 6,500 uranium enrichment centrifuges under a final agreement. This would allow Iran to achieve one nuclear weapon’s worth of uranium enrichment in between six months and a year (depending on the amount and enrichment level of low-enriched uranium the country’s allowed to have hand), and to keep as many as 5,500 more centrifuges than the minimum needed to run a “demonstration cascade” that would allow Iranian scientists to maintain a basic mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Even before the AP article was published on February 22, the 6,500 number had been reported in Israeli media and partly corroborated by the New York Times. But the AP includes news of a second and equally significant US concession.
The nuclear deal will apparently include a 15-year sunset, with certain restrictions on Iranian uranium enrichment lifted after 10 years and Iran permitted to keep somewhere in the neighbourhood as 10,000 centrifuges at the moment the deal expires. As the AP explains, the US had initially wanted a 20-year deal going into the latest round of talks, which means that the full, as-yet unknown set of restrictions will be in place for anywhere between one quarter one half the amount of time American negotiators were aiming for.
Why are US negotiators willing to stomach this concession? While a 10-15 year sunset is far from ideal, it at least freezes the amount of uranium Iran can possess and produce for a decade or more. It would keep Iran under a strict inspection regime and give the US and its allies a long lead-time to build support for another round of sanctions if Tehran evinced plans to further develop its nuclear program or otherwise buck the international system.
There’s another reason for accepting a short deal. As David Ignatius explained in a February 19th column in the Washington Post, the Israelis believe that the US is willing to accept a shorter agreement because the administration “wants to tie Iran’s hands for a decade until a new generation takes power there.”
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been ill recently. The Islamic Republic’s founding generation is dying out, and US negotiators hope that Iran will be a much different place in 10-15 years, with a government willing to draw down the more threatening aspects of its program even after a nuclear deal has expired. It’s probably also hoped that a nuclear agreement and Iran’s resulting reintegration with the international mainstream may even push the country towards this more pragmatic course.
But justifications have one troubling thing in common: They both make huge assumptions about the future nature of Iran’s relationship with the US and the rest of the world.
Under a short deal, the international community must re-implement sanctions if Iran decides to pocket its concessions and restart its program once the deal expires — something Tehran will be able to easily do, since the deal the AP describes would allow it to keep significant aspects of its nuclear infrastructure.
But it might be a huge leap to think that in 2030 the world will have any appetite for a second Iranian nuclear standoff, especially after economic and diplomatic ties have been fully restored for a decade or more under the preceding deal.
The current round of sanctions took substantial time and US political capital to implement. The global leaders of the future may wonder whether it’s worth doing it all over again to resolve an issue that they may feel has already been settled.
A short deal might also transform Iran’s nuclear calculus. When a 15 year deal expires, Tehran would be justified in figuring that it had been able to lift the international sanctions regime while being able to keep as many as 10,000 centrifuges. With sanctions gone and much of the country’s nuclear infrastructure in place, the Iranian leaders of 2030 will have little incentive to negotiate a second deal, should the US consider such a deal necessary.
The sunset clause’s assumptions about the Iranian regime’s future moderation may be wishful as well. The Islamic Republic has vacillated between reform and retrenchment for much of the past two decades. In 1997, the reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected Iran’s president. But ten years ago, the newly-elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made headlines for denying the Holocaust and expounding on the importance of destroying the state of Israel.
A short deal gambles on an opaque and highly compartmentalized regime transforming itself by a specific future date. This is a strange basis for an epochal diplomatic agreement in the Middle East or any other part of the world.
Finally, a short nuclear deal reflects a kind of short-term thinking that’s disconcertingly out of keeping with the actual challenges of nuclear proliferation. This is partly a structural problem. Presidential administrations last between four and eight years. Nuclear weapons, however, may be with humanity for the rest of the species’ existence, and once a country goes nuclear it seldom if ever crosses back over the threshold.
The ephemeral timetable of American political leadership at least makes it comprehensible that US political leaders wouldn’t be approaching the Iranian nuclear issue on a 50-or 100-year scale. But there was a 26-year lag between the inauguration of Pakistan’s nuclear program in 1972 and its first test of a nuclear weapon in 1998. North Korea attempted its first nuclear test in 2006, 12 years after signing the Agreed Framework with the US.
Determined nuclear proliferates understand that even long delays are meaningless so long as a capability is eventually established. The only countries that have lost their nuclear weapons have either destroyed or exported them voluntarily; once you’ve got the bomb, you’ve got it for good. And Iran, which has built illicit plutonium and a uranium programs while laboring under strict international sanctions, has been incredibly determined.
A 10-15 year sunset clause seems oblivious to some of the dangers of approaching the Iranian nuclear issue as a short-term matter that can be solved in a single go — rather than an question that could dog successive US administrations for decades or even centuries to come.
The accusation was reported in Foreign Policy magazine by staffer Colum Lynch, a former reporter for The Washington Post, who said U.S. officials passed the information to a panel of experts advising the United Nations Security Council. (The nature of the components was not stated.)
The Arak reactor is dangerous because it is a kind that makes plutonium production easier than in common civilian reactors. Plutonium can be used for bombs as well as uranium, which can be enriched to bomb grade by centrifuges of which Iran operates about 10,000.
Iran has granted inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency only limited access to Arak. Critical construction work there was said to be still suspended.
When negotiations were extended for a second time last month, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Iran has held up its end of the bargain.” In light of Iran’s component-shopping, that amounts to hair-splitting of a particularly devious kind. There is no good reason for Kerry to hide Iran’s maneuvers from the American people.
Perhaps Kerry wants to keep Congress in the dark too. In the Senate particularly, sentiment is growing for tighter economic sanctions against Iran, perhaps deploying automatically if negotiations fail. This could be a most useful weapon for Kerry’s negotiating toolbox but it appears his ego prevents him from considering it — which he may greatly regret.
West not expected to demand Iran atom bomb “mea culpa” in deal
(Reuters) – World powers are pressing Iran to stop stonewalling a U.N. atomic bomb investigation as part of a wider nuclear accord, but look likely to stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran to avoid killing an historic deal.
Officially, the United States and its Western allies say it is vital that Iran fully cooperate with a U.N. nuclear agency investigation if it wants a diplomatic settlement that would end the sanctions severely hurting its oil-based economy.
The six powers face a delicate balancing act at talks in Vienna, due to end by Monday; Israel and hawkish U.S. lawmakers – wary of any rapprochement with old foe Iran – are likely to pounce on a deal if they believe it is too soft on Tehran.
A senior U.S. official stressed that the powers had not changed their position on Iran’s past activities during this week’s talks: “We’ve always said that any agreement must resolve the issue to our satisfaction. That has not changed.”
Privately, however, some officials acknowledge that Iran may never be prepared to admit to what they believe it was guilty of: covertly working in the past to develop the ability to build a nuclear-armed missile – something it has always denied.
A senior Western official said the six would try to “be creative” in finding a formula to satisfy those who want Iran to come clean about any atomic bomb research and those who say this is simply unrealistic.
If an eventual accord does not put strong pressure on Iran to increase cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by making it a condition for some sanctions relief, it could hurt the IAEA’s credibility, some diplomats say.
INQUIRY IS STUCK
While the global powers – the United States, France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain – want to cut back Iran’s uranium enrichment program to lengthen the time it would need to build a bomb, the IAEA has for years has been trying to investigate allegations that Iran actually worked on designing a bomb.
“You don’t want to undermine the integrity of the IAEA,” said one envoy accredited to the agency.
The IAEA issued a report in 2011 with intelligence information indicating concerted activities until about a decade ago that could be relevant for developing nuclear bombs. It said some of these might be continuing.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano this week said Iran had again failed to provide the explanations needed for the IAEA inquiry, which has made scant headway in months.
Iran for its part has said these “possible military dimensions” (PMD) are an issue it will not budge on. “PMD is out of the question. It cannot be discussed,” an Iranian official said.
Another Western official said many inside the IAEA and Western governments felt uneasy about compromising on the issue, but added: “I believe the PMD issue is not a deal-breaker, even though it probably should be.”
Iran denies ever harboring any nuclear bomb ambitions and its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a religious decree against atomic weaponry.
Because of this, experts say, it is virtually impossible for Iranian officials to make any admission of such activity.
Tehran may also be wary of giving its enemies a rationale to attack it out of “self-defense”.
As the powers weigh how hard to push, some officials and experts argue that guarantees can be secured that nuclear weapons work has been halted without insisting on what would be an embarrassing Iranian “confession”.
US, France Say Iran Can Have Nuclear Program, Not Bomb
Kerry and Fabius met in Paris where they discussed ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and other issues, ahead of Kerry’s trilateral meeting in Oman on Iran’s nuclear status.
Kerry says he and Fabius believe that it would be “pretty easy” for a country to prove to the world that its nuclear plan is peaceful.
The secretary of state said the U.S. and France share a common goal as they take part in negotiations to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis before a November 24 deadline.
“We are hand-in-hand linked in this effort and we will work extremely close together in the next weeks to try to find a successful path,” Kerry said.
On Sunday, Kerry, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and EU representative Catherine Ashton will try to make headway on Iran’s nuclear status during talks in Oman.
Iran insists on its right to enrich uranium. Western powers have voiced concern that Iran wants to produce nuclear weapons.
Kerry says a unified P5 + 1 grouping – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany – has presented Iran with “creative ideas” to help achieve its objectives.
“Now we will see if Iran is able to match the public words that they are prepared to prove to the world that they have a peaceful program, to match those words with the tough and courageous decisions that need to be made by all of us,” Kerry said. “The time is now to make those decisions.”
President Barack Obama says the United States and its P5 +1 allies have handed Iran a framework for a nuclear agreement, but says it will be weeks before anyone knows if there will be a deal.
“What are they trying to hide or what are they trying to disguise? They’re trying to disguise a commitment to a nuclear program that they’ve not given up and that they’re not going to give up,” Ereli said.
Brookings Institution Middle East analyst Riccardo Alcaro says Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani may have difficulties “selling” a final nuclear deal to his domestic audience, if it appears Tehran has made concessions to the West.
But, he says there are several reasons why an agreement would be in Iran’s best interests.
“It would give Iran the chance to be reintegrated into the international community,” Alcaro said. “It would give a boost to its economy which has been severely damaged by the sanctions.”
He says it would also help Rouhani’s government in terms of its international reputation and credibility.