Nuclear Agreement with Iran: Remarkably Good Deal
By Vojin Joksimovich
Modern Tokyo Times
The April 2nd Lausanne framework agreement between the six world powers and Iran represents a remarkably good deal from the nuclear non-proliferation standpoint. It has the potential to become a historic game-changer, assuming a formal deal is signed by July 1 overcoming strenuous criticisms from Israel and other quarters. Critics question verifiability and the long-term impact on regional and global stability. By contrast, according to the investigative journalist Robert Parry, the agreement represents more than just a diplomatic deal: “It marks a crossroad that offers a possible path for the American Republic to regain its footing and turn away from endless war.” The negotiations known as P5+1 – five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) plus Germany – and Iran were initiated in November 2013, and resulted in the Geneva Accords.
There had been several unsuccessful attempts since 2002, when Iranian dissident groups revealed the existence of two key facilities. They were Natanz uranium enrichment centrifuges and Arak heavy water reactor, and neither had been declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Natanz could enrich uranium up to the 90 % isotope weapons grade level, while Arak could provide an alternative plutonium bomb path. The US instantly accused Iran of working to obtain nuclear weapons, and the decade-plus old nuclear conundrum ensued.
In the 2006-2008 periods five UNSC resolutions were adopted demanding Iran’s halt in the uranium enrichment program, resulting in three rounds of sanctions. In 2009 revelations were made of a three-hundred-foot deep bunkerized uranium enrichment plant at Fordow, near the city of Qom.
Two key developments provided a momentum for the talks. First, secret US/Iran bilateral meetings in Oman; second, election of Hassan Rohani as President of Iran, who has served in the past as a negotiator.
Despite remarkable nuclear non-proliferation headway, which could in principle be used to negotiate a similar agreement with North Korea, the P5+1 agreement resulted in an avalanche of criticisms. It came primarily from the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, using apocalyptic language. The Israeli US lobby has exercised influence over the US Congress. The Washington War Party neocon legends such as Senator McCain, advocate the bombing of Iran. Criticism in Iran came from the powerful Revolutionary Guards, who control military sites and are objecting to limited access by IAEA inspectors. Criticisms from US allies in the Arab world have been moderate. Israeli concerns are addressed below. The Washington Post-ABC poll showed that Americans by two to one margin support the deal.
It is noteworthy that the critics have failed to provide an alternative to war, which is made much more complicated after President Putin lifted the ban on selling S-300 air-defense missile systems to Iran. The contract was signed in 2007 but Russia halted delivery on a voluntary basis after a request from President Obama.
The P5+1 primary objective was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. To that effect, Western negotiators have compromised, allowing Iran to continue its scaled-down enrichment program simply for its peaceful nuclear program. Rather than dismantling the Iranian nuclear infrastructure built over more than a decade with a multi-billion dollar investment, enrichment would be subject to a highly intrusive inspection regime. However, Netanyahu and his US supporters want to completely dismantle the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, which would amount to Iran’s capitulation and thus is totally unrealistic.
Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran is allowed to enrich uranium for its commercial nuclear power program, using low enriched uranium. Iran has one commercial nuclear power plant in operation built by the Russians at Bushehr, having signed a contract for two more Russian reactors and having plans for six more. Iran can purchase the nuclear fuel for these plants from Russia, which is what they are currently doing, or they can manufacture their own fuel as Brazil currently does for reloads of their nuclear plants. In addition, Iran operates a small US- supplied research reactor for production of medical isotopes aimed at cancer treatment. This reactor uses non-weapon grade 20% enriched uranium fuel.
The P5+1 approach boils down to extending Iran’s “breakout capability”—the time needed to produce sufficient amount of weapons grade uranium (~90% enriched) for one nuclear weapon. The current estimate is a couple of months, which would be extended to at least a year and would maintain it at that level for a decade or so.
Iran’s main objective is to get relief from the US-led “biting” sanctions. In 2010 the Congress passed Comprehensive Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act. President Obama added executive orders in 2010/2011. These sanctions had a crippling effect on Iran’s resource-dependent economy and in particular restrictions on its oil and gas exports. Iran was cut off from the international system of transferring money between banks.
Iran wants all sanctions to be lifted as soon as the deal is signed. Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah All Khamenei, demanded this in his first public comments on the deal. The Obama administration has been demanding a phased repeal of the sanctions conditioned on Iran’s continuing compliance. According to a deal between Obama and the US Senate, the Congress will be given one month to review the final version of the proposed treaty. Hence, the Congress might become a deal breaker.
Key Deal Ingredients
Iran would reduce its installed centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104. Of those, only 5,060 first generation IR-1 knockoffs of 1970s of the German and Dutch models would be spinning for the next 10 years. Iran not only wouldn’t be able to install five-times faster IR-2 machines, but they would be restricted to enrich uranium to only 3.67% (far from 90% needed for the weapons grade). Their R&D program for more efficient designs will be based on the plan submitted to the IAEA. Fordow center will cease all enrichment activities and will be converted into a research center.
Iran will reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 kg to 300 kg for the next 15 years. The Arak reactor will be redesigned and its original core that could have produced weapons grade plutonium will be removed and destroyed. No other heavy water reactor would be built for 15 years.
All these restrictions represent huge Iranian concessions. The Iranians gave up most of what they had. De facto Iran gave the store away.
Under the framework, the IAEA inspectors will be able to inspect any facility, declared or not, as long as deemed suspicious. Iran will address the IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions of its program. Such IAEA powers will remain in place indefinitely and are a lot more sweeping than those for any other country.
Ayatollah Khamenei ruled out outside inspections of the county’s military sites. Former US Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, writhing in the Wall Street Journal, questioned IAEA’s capability to handle “so complex and vast an assignment.”
The agreement should make the region safer, heading off the threats of a nuclear arms race with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. Israel would be more secure too, because the Iranian nuclear program will become transparent. However, that is not how the agreement is perceived in Jerusalem and certain political circles in Washington.
Israeli Nuclear Doctrine
Israel adheres to the one-sided Begin Doctrine (“Israel will not tolerate nuclear weapons in the region”). That doctrine has excluded its own Middle East nuclear monopoly, ignores its 1981 bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction, and doesn’t acknowledge its 2007 bombing of a Syrian reactor.
Israel asserts an existential threat by Iran as a nation that might use nuclear weapons by dropping a bomb on Israel. Due to Israel’s small size, it is a “one bomb” state. In addition, due to its Islamist ambitions Iran might conceivably handover a nuclear weapon an-anti Israeli third-party, thus threatening Israel with annihilation.
Israel’s timelines lack credibility. As examples, (1) In 2009 they claimed that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in 6 months; (2) Later they claimed the point of no return was reached therefore would strike if Iran doesn’t shutter its program by December 2009; (3) Netanyahu’s set a redline in the summer of 2013.
Iran has developed an infrastructure but evidently has not decided to build a bomb. On the other hand Israel has a stockpile of over 100 nuclear warheads.
Even if Iran did develop a nuclear weapon, they would have to test it as all nuclear weapons states have done it. If they test it the whole world would know.
Beyond that, Iran would have to develop capability to mount an aircraft-or missile –or ship deliverable nuclear warhead. In order to become a credible nuclear weapons state, Iran would need a significant and secure inventory of some 100 nuclear warheads – like Pakistan, India and Israel. North Korea is the only nuclear weapons country that has a small inventory of some dozen warheads. However, according to recent Chinese sources, the Wall Street Journal has reported that North Korea is currently in possession of 20 nuclear warheads, which could be doubled by next year.
In terms of non-proliferation, it is reasonable to conclude that the proposed and long-negotiated agreement with Iran is a remarkably good deal for all concerned parties. The focus of non-proliferation efforts should be urgently shifted on negotiations with North Korea.
Dr. Vojin Joksimovich, a nuclear engineer, is the author of three books and 120 articles/blogs on world affairs.
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