What I’ll be looking for
I’ve pledged a piece on the Iran nuclear deal to the Middle East Institute, once it is done. I claim some competence in the matter, as I earned a master’s degree in physical chemistry at the University of Chicago (and a doctorate on the history of radiation protection at Princeton) and spent seven years as a science counselor in American embassies working on non-proliferation issues.
Here are some key things I’ll be looking for:
1. Does the deal meet provisions laid out in the April Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program?
The parameters were unprecedented in what they would require a potential bomb-building country to do. The Americans published them, but the Iranians in the end did not formally object to their contents (and the Iranian Foreign Minister implied the document was accurate). Does the new agreement (presumably called a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) faithfully reproduce and implement its provisions?
2. Are the verification mechanisms sufficiently intrusive to ensure that we will know if Tehran cheats?
This is in some respects the most important issue. The parameters promised inspections at uranium-producing facilities for 25 years and surveillance of centrifuges (and their production) 20. How will these provisions be implemented? What provisions have been made to ensure access to suspicious military sites? There is no history of nuclear nonproliferation using facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Can we be reasonably certain of discovering if Iran initiates a clandestine nuclear program outside the purview of the IAEA?
3. How are sanctions to be lifted?
Does lifting of sanctions follow verified implementation? Which sanctions are to be lifted and how? Will the architecture of sanctions remain in place, as pledged in the parameters?
4. What provisions have been made for “snap-back” of sanctions in the event of violations?
Who decides when there is a violation? How is it decided that sanctions will be reimposed? What is the promised “dispute resolution mechanism”?
5. Will the arms embargo on Iran be lifted?
The parameters promised lifting of all UN Security Council resolutions “on the nuclear issue.” Does this mean the arms embargo, which among other things has blocked Russian sales of advanced air defenses to Tehran, will be lifted and if so how and when?
US representation in Tehran: This deal is so far-reaching and complex, it is difficult to see how it can be implemented effectively without an official US presence in Iran. Are provisions being made for return of US diplomats and technical experts? Does this mean re-opening of a US office (if not an embassy), or will the Americans work out of the embassy of Switzerland, which has represented the US there since we broke diplomatic relations in 1980?
Iran’s behavior in the region, support for terrorism and human rights record at home. Both Democrats and Republicans will raise these issues during the 60-day Congressional review period. The Obama Administration has been reluctant to press those concerns as hard as it might while the nuclear negotiations were ongoing. Will that policy now change? Will the US be more prepared to push back against Iran’s forces or their proxies in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Lebanon? Will Iran use the funds it gains from sanctions relief to make even more trouble, and how will the Administration react to that.
Regional security: Wars are currently raging in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iran and the US are both directly or indirectly implicated in all of them. Can the nuclear deal somehow lead to a regional accord that includes Saudi Arabia and Turkey and enables a more effective effort against ISIS as well as restoration of state integrity and effective governance?
I look forward to getting some answers, maybe tomorrow.