Iran’s Nuke Deal Goes into Effect

The six great powers known as the P5+1 have agreed with Iran to begin the implementation of the interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. D-Day is January 20, 2014, a week from today. While the parties implement this arrangement, they will also negotiate on a more permanent settlement of the issue. Progress on the current deal is the necessary but not sufficient condition for a final resolution. Both sides are now going to face the acid test.

For its part, Iran will start downblending its stockpile of U235 enriched to 20% to a more civilian-use only 5%. This will be completed in six months, mid-July. It will be pretty easy to ascertain if all the U235 is downblended and whether that happened on time. The one danger here is that some of the 20% enriched U235 is undeclared. Mitigating that risk is the certain knowledge in Iran that undeclared U235 if discovered would be grounds from excruciatingly tight sanctions. In addition, Iran will allow daily inspections of its Nantaz and Fordo site by the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as monthly inspections of the Arak heavy water plant, where construction is to halt.

For their part, the P5+1 (Germany plus the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: the US, UK, France, China, and Russia) will provide “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible [sanctions] relief.” They will allow for safety-related repairs and inspections in Iran of aircraft for certain civilian airlines. They will suspend sanctions on precious metal trading, petrochemical exports from Iran and on trading with Iran’s car industry. Most readily measured, they also will make installment payments totaling $4.2 billion of frozen assets related to oil sales.

If both sides stick to the deal for the next six months, it will be taken on both sides as a sign that there is genuine good will for a final resolution of the issue. That isn’t to say that a screw up here or there is going to be fatal to a longer-term arrangement. Sometimes, there are technical issues that derail matters, but if these are readily fixed and openly addressed, the deal will survive.

If there is a material breach in the arrangement, however, there is no point in continuing discussion of a deal that will last for years. After all, the parties will not have been able to reach an arrangement that lasts a few months. And there are factions in both Iran and among the P-5+1 that would prefer no deal at all. They will have to be watched by all concerned.

That isn’t to say that if the current six-month interim arrangement succeeds, then the matter is resolved. There is a lot of ground for negotiations to cover for a broader agreement. For example, how quickly do sanctions come off, and in what stages? At the same time, does Iran have to submit to daily inspections of its nuclear sites until the end of time? Would tariffs on Iran cars entering the US violate the agreement?

This journal has long maintained that some problems in international affairs are not fixable. The best one can do is to manage them. The Iranian nuclear program is on the cusp between being managed and being fixed. However, the world has reached a point where failure could produce an unmanageable problem. Caution must be the watchword.