The negotiations in Switzerland concerning the Iranian nuclear research program have resulted in a framework for a final agreement. The P5 (US, UK, Russia, China and France) +1 (Germany) and Iran have to start drafting the agreement now, and they have given themselves to June 30 to complete it. While this is a significant breakthrough in the arena of non-proliferation, writing it up can still pose problems. In the end, however, this is preferable to no deal at all.
The parties have not released much in the way of details, and while they are drafting the language on a final deal, it is probably best that they don’t. That said, Reuters is reporting, “A Western official said the sides had agreed that the comprehensive settlement would require Iran to dilute or ship abroad most of its stocks of enriched uranium, and suspend two thirds of the 19,000 centrifuges it operates for enrichment. It will be monitored for 10 years.”
If this is accurate, these conditions represent major obstacles to Iran building a fission weapon in the next decade. Downblending its enriched uranium or shipping it out of the country would render it useless for military purposes. A concentration of U235 of 3-5% is useful in power plants, but physics won’t let that level of enrichment incinerate a city. For that, the U235 must be 20% minimum, and 80-90% is considered weapons-grade. The terms as reported would prevent Iran from reaching that threshold unless the agreement were violated. Moreover, sidelining 11,000+ centrifuges would further hamper enrichment. A decade of monitoring is vital, and if the inspection regime is porous, it will mean nothing. However, for now, one will suspend judgment.
Naturally, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu took to Twitter to declare: “Any deal must significantly role back Iran’s nuclear capabilities and stop its terrorism and aggression.” One can also expect the American right and the hardliners in Iran to oppose the agreement. The US rightists will argue that Iran is going to cheat while Iran’s knuckle-draggers will claim the price for lifting sanctions is too high.
This journal takes the view that there are three options the west has in dealing with Iran. First there might be some kind of nuclear deal that relaxes economic and social sanctions as this agreement is likely to be. Second, there is continuation (even tightening) of sanctions hoping that further discomfort will force Tehran into a “better deal” or even bring about the fall of the mullahs. Third, the US and its allies could go to war with Iran to prevent a nuclear weapons project from succeeding.
The first option is messy, ugly and far from perfect. The second won’t work because the sanctions currently include Russia and China — two nations that want to get on with the business of business. In the end, this approach will lead to the kind of idiocy American policy toward Cuba represented for 50 years. Third, US troops in Iran would send the price of oil through the roof, crippling the global economy, and it would not ensure Iran wouldn’t build a Bomb anyway. Indeed, America’s alleged ally Pakistan might be persuaded to help if American forces went in. Remember where bin Laden was.
Given the mess that is the political situation in the Middle East, this agreement does more than possibly deter Iran from making a Bomb. It also offers a method of confidence building that could help Washington and Tehran be less spiky toward one another. One ought not to be naive in thinking Iran and the US will be best pals any time soon, but they have many interests in common and this deal (when drafted, signed and ratified if required) would allow them to pursue those more closely together.
It is a bad deal? Probably, but it’s all the world has.