More on the Nuclear Deal with Iran

I like to think that I am a fair-minded fellow, so in the interests of fairness and presenting both sides on the Iran nuclear deal, here is Fred Kaplan telling us that the framework for a nuclear deal with Iran is really and that we should be very glad indeed to have it as we work towards a comprehensive negotiated settlement. Read the whole thing, but note that even Kaplan is forced to admit that there are ways in which the new framework leaves us with more questions than answers:

First, it’s not clear when the sanctions would be lifted. An official summary of the framework states, at one point, “Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.” Elsewhere, it says that all U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iran nuclear issues “will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns.”

But this leaves open the question of timing. Some of these “commitments” are to be carried out through the duration of the deal, yet certainly there’s no suggestion that the sanctions will remain in place for a decade. Are the relevant commitments those that involve the reduction or dismantlement of nuclear equipment? If so, will the sanctions be lifted in phases or all at once when the cuts and shutdowns are complete?

The framework also states that sanctions can be “snapped back” into place if, at any point, Iran violates any part of the deal. But as everyone knows, it’s much harder to reimpose sanctions than it is to lift them, especially at the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China (which signed on to the sanctions reluctantly and want to see them lifted as soon as possible) have veto power. So everything else about this deal has to be solid.

More analysis here and here. Of course, it is worth emphasizing that we have only achieved a framework for a deal, and that there is much more that needs to be done to achieve a comprehensive negotiated settlement regarding Iran’s nuclear capacity. The achievement of such a settlement is far from guaranteed. And in the meantime, there remain things to be worried about.

For one thing, the United States and Iran can’t seem to agree on what the deal actually is:

Negotiators at the nuclear talks in Switzerland emerged from marathon talks on Thursday with a surprisingly detailed outline of the agreement they now must work to finalize by the end of June.

But one problem is that there are two versions.

The only joint document issued publicly was a statement from Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, the European Union foreign policy chief, that was all of seven paragraphs.

The statement listed about a dozen “parameters” that are to guide the next three months of talks, including the commitment that Iran’s Natanz installation will be the only location at which uranium is enriched during the life of the agreement.

But the United States and Iran have also made public more detailed accounts of their agreements in Lausanne, and those accounts underscore their expectations for what the final accord should say.

A careful review shows that there is considerable overlap between the two accounts, but also some noteworthy differences — which have raised the question of whether the two sides are entirely on the same page, especially on the question of how quickly sanctions are to be removed. The American and Iranian statements also do not clarify some critical issues, such as precisely what sort of research Iran will be allowed to undertake on advanced centrifuges during the first 10 years of the accord.

More on the differences between the Iranian and American understandings of the framework here. See also this:

Missing, however, are details on when sanctions would be lifted based on Iran’s compliance with the deal. That is important because the sanctions have strangled Iran’s economy and brought the government to the negotiating table. Yet international leverage to enforce compliance dissipates as the sanctions are lifted.

A determined Iran, desperate to sell its oil on the open market again, could meet the terms necessary to gain significant sanctions relief in just two or three years, says Jofi Joseph, a former director for non-proliferation in Obama’s National Security Council.

“The Iranians certainly want sanctions removed as fast as possible,” Joseph said. Once the international sanctions are suspended, they become very difficult to restore, he said. Russia, China and many European Union countries are keen on resuming trade with oil-rich Iran, whose 81 million people are hungry for Western and Chinese products.

Omri Ceren, an analyst at The Israel Project, a strong critic of the agreement, said the lack of specificity on when the sanctions would be lifted already is creating conflicting statements between the White House and Iran on the timing.

Another problematic omission, Joseph and others say, is how Iran will explain evidence uncovered by U.N. inspectors that it worked toward developing nuclear weapons in the past, something it has consistently denied.

The evidence was a key rationale for U.N. sanctions, but the framework agreement does not say whether the sanctions would be lifted before Iran addresses the issue. It’s also unclear how the IAEA inspectors will look for any remaining covert nuclear facilities without such an accounting, Joseph said.

The White House description doesn’t clearly address whether Iran’s military sites would be included in inspections, something the Iranian government has flatly ruled out. “If there’s a covert program” at those sites, “the (U.N. inspectors) won’t be able to inspect them,” said Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

 And more discussion from Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz:

A White House less desperate to make a deal would consider how easily nuclear agreements with bad actors are circumvented. Charles Duelfer has written a trenchant account in Politico of how Saddam Hussein tied the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear inspectors into knots in the 1990s, rendering them incapable of ascertaining the truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The inspections regime in Iran envisioned by the Obama administration will not even come close to the intrusiveness of the failed inspections in Iraq. Worse, once sanctions are lifted and billions of dollars of Iranian trade starts to flow again to European and Asian companies, the U.S. likely will be dealing with a U.N. even more politically divided, and more incapable of action, than in the days of Saddam and the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

In an effort to circumvent possible congressional disapproval of his deal-making, Mr. Obama is voluntarily surrendering control of the implementation and verification of any agreement to the Security Council, where American leadership and influence are weak. The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, a decent little outfit of underpaid and underfunded bureaucrats and inspectors, can do good work when the Security Council is unified. The IAEA’s utility plummets when the council is divided.

The nuclear deal with Iran will now obviously go through without the clerical regime having to answer all of the questions that the IAEA still has about the “possible military dimensions,” or PMDs, of Iran’s nuclear program. It is perverse to think that the IAEA, having been successfully thwarted by Iran in the past, can now serve as a safeguard against future Iranian cheating.

The president’s much-hyped “snap-back” economic sanctions, now the only coercive instrument Mr. Obama has against Iranian noncompliance, will also surely fall victim to the Security Council’s politics and human greed. Already the Russians are resisting any snap-back provision that will neutralize their rogue-regime-protecting veto.

So there is, in fact, quite a lot about the new framework that should leave the rest of us concerned. About the best thing the framework has going for it is that it is not a comprehensive deal. But any comprehensive deal that fails to address the many deficiencies in the framework is no deal at all.