The Iran Nuclear Deal Looks Better and Better

The Iran Nuclear Deal Looks Better and Better April 6, 2015

The more I look at the details of the deal negotiated with Iran, the more surprised I am at what an incredible deal it really is. We got more than I ever imagined we could get, especially in terms of monitoring and enforcement. And nuclear proliferation experts agree that all this Republican screeching is totally disconnected from reality.

Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former national security aide to Sen. John McCain, and a former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense: “[T]he proposed parameters and framework in the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has the potential to meet every test in creating a valid agreement over time…It can block both an Iranian nuclear threat and a nuclear arms race in the region, and it is a powerful beginning to creating a full agreement, and creating the prospect for broader stability in other areas. Verification will take at least several years, but some form of trust may come with time. This proposal should not be a subject for partisan wrangling or outside political exploitation. It should be the subject of objective analysis of the agreement, our intelligence and future capabilities to detect Iran’s actions, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) capabilities to verify, and enforcement provisions if Iran should cheat. No perfect agreement was ever possible and it is hard to believe a better option was negotiable. In fact, it may be a real victory for all sides: A better future for Iran, and greater security for the United States, its Arab partners, Israel, and all its other allies.”…

Joseph Cirincione, president of of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, and former director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “The agreement does three things. It blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. It imposes tough inspections to catch Iran should it try to break out, sneak out, or creep out of the deal. And it keeps our coalition united to enforce the deal. Under this deal, Iran has agreed to rip out two-thirds of its centrifuges and cut its stockpile of uranium gas by 97 percent. It will not be able to make any uranium or plutonium for a bomb. Many of the restrictions in the agreement continue for 25 years and some—like the inspections and the ban on building nuclear weapons—last forever.”

Vox explains the real key to this, which is the permanent monitoring of every facet of Iran’s nuclear program, from mining to research to enriching:

When Aaron Stein was studying nuclear non-proliferation at Middlebury College’s Monterey graduate program, the students would sometimes construct what they thought would be the best possible nuclear inspection and monitoring regimes.

Years later, Stein is now a Middle East and nuclear proliferation expert with the Royal United Services Institute. And he says the Iran nuclear framework agreement, announced on Thursday, look an awful lot like those ideal hypotheticals he’d put together in grad school.

“When I was doing my non-proliferation training at Monterey, this is the type of inspection regime that we would dream up in our heads,” he said. “We would hope that this would be the way to actually verify all enrichment programs, but thought that would never be feasible.

“If these are the parameters by which the [final agreement] will be signed, then this is an excellent deal,” Stein concluded…

There are two reasons inspections are so important. The first is that super-stringent inspections are a deterrent: if the Iranians know that any deviation is going to be quickly caught, they have much less incentive to try to cheat, and much more incentive to uphold their side of the deal.

The second is that if Iran were to try a build a nuclear weapon now, it likely wouldn’t use the material that’s already known to the world and being monitored. Rather, the Iranians would secretly manufacture some off-the-books centrifuges, secretly mine some off-the-books uranium, and squirrel it all away to a new, secret underground facility somewhere. That would be the only way for Iran to build up enough of an arsenal such that by the time the world found out, it would be too late to do anything about it.

Really robust inspections would be the best way stop that from happening. They would prevent Iran from sneaking off centrifuges or siphoning away uranium that could be used to build an off-the-grid nuclear weapons program, without the world finding out.

The inspections issue has not gotten much political attention. When I spoke to Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury’s Monterey Institute of International Studies, on Tuesday before the framework was announced, he seemed worried that negotiators would not focus on it much. Rather, overwhelming political focus in Washington and Tehran on issues like Iran’s number of allowed centrifuges seemed likely to push inspections from the top priorities.

Lewis suggested that a top item on his wish list would be inspections so robust that inspectors don’t just get to visit enrichment sites like Natanz and Fordow, but also centrifuge factories. That, he said, “would be a big achievement.”

Sure enough, come Thursday, Lewis got his wish and then some: centrifuge factory inspections is one of the terms in the framework, and it’s pretty robust. For the next 20 years, inspectors would have “continuous surveillance at Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities.”

“I was shocked to read that they got them to agree to let us walk around their centrifuge production facilities. That’s amazing,” Stein said.

It’s not just centrifuge factories. Inspectors will have access to all parts of Iran’s nuclear supply chain, including its uranium mines and the mills where it processes uranium ore. Inspectors will also not just monitor but be required to pre-approve all sales to Iran of nuclear-related equipment. This provision also applies to something called “dual-use” materials, which means any equipment that could be used toward a nuclear program.

“The inspections and transparency on the rotors, and the bellows, and the uranium mines is more than I ever thought would be in this agreement,” Stein added.

It’s really quite an extraordinary diplomatic achievement and Secretary of State John Kerry and the team in Geneva really deserves tremendous credit for it. And let’s not forget that the fact that these negotiations were multicultural and that we were working together not only with our European allies, but even with Russia. That makes them all the more delicate and difficult.

If the Republicans fuck this up, it will be a huge, huge mistake.

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