Requirements for a final Iran nuclear deal
Although Iran and the P5+1 seem to be adhering to their Joint Plan of Action, both sides face pressure to reach a final nuclear deal before the end of the six-month interim agreement, which began implementation in January. On Monday, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion to discuss the Iran nuclear negotiations. The panelists were Senior Fellow Robert Einhorn, former special advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Dennis Ross, counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Frank N. von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. Brookings Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, moderated.
Robert Einhorn: It is important to ask ourselves what the main goal of the agreement ought to be. Some argue that the main goal of an agreement should be to eliminate Iran’s capability to produce nuclear arms. Given its technical knowhow, experience, and resources, Iran already has a nuclear weapons capability.
An agreement could however deter Iran’s leaders from ever making the decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Such an agreement would have three basic requirements:
- It would provide confidence that any steps by Iran to break out of an agreement and move towards nuclear weapons, whether at covert or at declared nuclear facilities, would be detected quickly.
- It would ensure that the period of time between initiation of breakout steps and the production of enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon would be long enough to enable the international community to intervene decisively to stop Iran.
- As a result of actions taken outside an agreement, Iran would get the clear message that any attempt to break out and make nuclear weapons would be met with a firm international response, including military force.
Each of these points is discussed in Bob’s Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement.
Reaching an agreement that meets these three requirements will not be easy. Both President Obama and President Rouhani face strong domestic opposition that will limit their room for maneuver. No agreement that emerges from current negotiations will be ideal.
The true test for any agreement is how it compares to alternative approaches for dealing with the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program. One alternative is to ratchet up the sanctions until Iran makes major concessions. Another alternative is use of military force. Before we turn to these, we should make every effort to achieve an agreement that deters Iran by making the pathway towards acquiring nuclear weapons as detectable, lengthy, and risky as possible.
Dennis Ross: Bob’s report made a reference to the possible military dimensions of the Iranian program. He also mentioned the difficulty of getting Iranians to admit their weapons program. It is critical to expose what has been done in the past. It is difficult to forge an agreement if there are certain aspects of the program that are hidden. The Iranian narrative claims it is a peaceful program. It is not. If the deal does not take place, this should be part of the Western narrative: all along the Iranians had a program that was not peaceful. That will help to justify some of the steps we may take.
Bob makes the case that this is going to be an agreement where Iran will be able to enrich uranium in a limited way. This is important because in the event that diplomacy fails, we must demonstrate to the international community that what we offered was credible. If the Iranians turn the offer down, it will mean they are not satisfied with peaceful nuclear energy. We need to be in a position to unmask the Iranians if diplomacy fails.
Another way to affect the Iranians and strengthen deterrence measures is to lengthen the breakout time. If extended to twelve months, their program would be set back far enough that the steps they have to take would be daunting. A longer breakout time will reduce their temptation to cheat.
To deter the Iranians from cheating, the consequences of cheating need to be clear. Bob mentioned a Security Council resolution, IAEA involvement, and Congressional authorization for the president to use force. The clearer we are on the consequences of cheating, the greater likelihood we will produce an agreement.
The key for the negotiations to be successful is to demonstrate to the Supreme Leader the consequences of not reaching an agreement. Historically, the Islamic Republic has only adjusted its behavior when the costs were high. The Supreme Leader needs to realize that the economic costs would be intolerable and the failure of diplomacy would trigger the use of force.
Frank von Hippel: The monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge production is not a traditional part of safeguards, but it is critical. As the US intelligence community says, a sneakout is more likely than a breakout. A sneakout would involve the production of extra centrifuges and installing them in an undeclared location. We need confidence in the IAEA’s ability to keep track of all the components and centrifuges.
Iran’s enrichment program is symptomatic of a more general problem with the current nonproliferation regime. Centrifuge enrichment plants are inherently dual purpose. As long as it is considered legitimate for countries to build and control them nationally, the potential for nuclear weapons breakouts will spread to more countries.
Confrontation and negotiation between Washington and Tehran are only part of the story. There are also parallel confrontations and negotiations within Washington and within Tehran. Those who are working for a diplomatic solution have to be aware of the domestic political constraints of their counterparts on the other side. Compromise will be necessary.