Iran Nuclear Talks–Intelligence Perspective and Worrisome Questions

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

For several weeks, members of the UN Security Council have been attempting to reach an agreement with Iran regarding its development of nuclear weapons. This month, President Obama announced the “key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The terms of this plan and how will affect Iran’s neighbors remain to be seen.

 

US Secy. of Energy Ernest Moniz, US Secy. of State John Kerry, Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi at the Geneva talks, March 2015. Image by US Dept. of State, public domain

US Secy. of Energy Ernest Moniz, US Secy. of State John Kerry, Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi at the Geneva talks, March 2015.
Image by US Dept. of State, public domain

 

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the other negotiating nations’ representatives describe the pending agreement with Iran as being a major historic breakthrough in relations. Supporters of the agreement describe it as a historic triumph. Detractors are certain that it is a historic mistake. Since the final details of any agreement are not yet known, it’s difficult to say how good or bad it will be for any of the concerned nations.

Though the deadline might again prove flexible, the final agreement is scheduled to be finished by June 30. If the UN Security Council – comprised of permanent members Russia, China, France, the UK, and the US, and rotating member Germany – all accept the final terms and sign an agreement, then we will have an agreement to debate.

It’s easy to understand why any nuclear agreement with Iran might be difficult to sell to the majority of the American public. Many Americans remember President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proudly gushing enthusiasm about how she had gotten North Korea to agree to forego building nuclear weapons. That was in 1994. Madeleine was not available for comment once North Korea tested their first nuclear weapon in 2006.

Burn me with radiation once, shame on you. Burn me with radiation twice . . . well, I would be dead anyway, but you get the point.

 

 

President Obama and his supporters have presented the agreement as an alternative to war with Iran.

Framing it in those terms makes any agreement seem more palatable, but this ignores the various other options, including the status quo. We cannot forget that while the sanctions have been in place, they have helped prevent Iran from testing a nuclear warhead.

It’s clear that Iran has acutely felt the effects of the current sanctions.

Either keeping the sanctions in place or increasing them are both viable options. Just this past Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that other options including increased sanctions were under consideration. Clearly the “we better sign it to prevent war with Iran” theory is salesmanship, and like most sales teams, the White House knows not to take their own marketing efforts too seriously.

If we compare the proposed terms of the pending agreement with past negotiation results, it appears, from a US point of view, to be an improvement over previous Iranian positions. However, some of the more worrisome terms of the agreement, as it is proposed thus far, include permitting Iran to retain illegally built facilities at Fordow and Arak, allowing Iran to preserve its stockpiles of enriched uranium, and phasing out most restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities after 10 years.

US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that expecting Iran to close the aforementioned facilities and reduce their stockpiles of enriched uranium would have amounted to “Iranian capitulation,” and therefore was not achievable.

I agree with the Secretary on this point. The entire reason for the sanctions during the last fifteen years has been to get Iran to capitulate on the point of nuclear weapons development. We could have achieved Iranian “non-capitulation” without the past fifteen years of negotiations and diplomatic breakdancing.

If we examine the current proposed terms without comparison to past proposals, then the framework for an agreement is probably better than what most skeptics (and experienced optimists) had expected.

 

Canstock 2015 Apr Time for Questions

 

However, some of the most worrisome questions have not been addressed . . .

  • Will the International Atomic Energy Agency be given unfettered access to all Iranian nuclear facilities?
  • When will sanctions be lifted, and in exchange for what action by Iran?
  • At what point will sanctions be imposed if there are violations?
  • What will happen to Iran’s current stockpiles of 20% uranium?

Regardless of any other terms, without addressing these questions, any agreement with Iran would be close to useless.

Iran continues to give heavy support to internationally identified terrorist groups, and Iran is in the middle of expanding its ballistic missile program. Otherwise, observers in the West might be more enthusiastic about an agreement with them.

Notice that we have not yet mentioned Israel . . .

Israel sees itself as the future target of any Iranian nuclear weapons. Given that the Iranian leadership has so often worked hard to convince the world that they wish to annihilate Israel, it’s easy to see how Israelis would not wish to place much stock on anything short of a completely enforceable, airtight nonproliferation agreement with Iran.

It might have been reasonable for the White House to assume that Israel would not accept any agreement with Iran. It might even have been reasonable for the White House to give up trying to placate the Israeli government. But it was unwise for the White House to do so openly and blatantly. In my opinion, the administration should have at least publicly dealt with Israel with its usual politically feasible feigned concern. After all, those are, in large measure, Israeli lives that the negotiators have taken to the poker table with Iran.

The Saudis and the Gulf States (as we so optimistically call those sheikdoms near Saudi Arabia) might not have any deep concerns for Israeli lives, but they have lived next to the Iranian theocracy long enough to worry about their own vulnerability to Iranian weapons developments. Iran’s current invasion of Yemen and its power grabbing efforts in Iraq have further raised the level of distrust in Iran’s Gulf neighbors.

What about the concerns of that other group of over-privileged playboys?

Let’s not forget that the White House will have to satisfy the collective wishes of the US Congress before the US is officially a party to any treaty with Iran. The White House has tried to disarm the US congress by calling the agreement a “not-a-treaty.” We shall see how well that flies.

 

Secy. of State John Kerry after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif at the "not-a-treaty" conference. Image by Dept. of State, public domain.

Secy. of State John Kerry after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif at the “not-a-treaty” conference.
Image by Dept. of State, public domain.

 

And the Iranians, themselves?

Alarmingly, the Iranians are already backpedaling from this agreement, even though they have not yet actually agreed to it. Currently, Iran is describing terms of an agreement that are vastly different than what the White House and UN Security Council are describing.

One glaring example is that the Iranian government says that the agreement will allow them to keep ten thousand uranium enrichment centrifuges while all other parties to the negotiation say that the agreement allows for a little over five thousand centrifuges. Doubling the uranium enrichment capacity makes a huge difference in any nuclear weapons program. Yet at the same time, the Iranian leadership is telling the world press that Iranian nuclear weapons programs are a figment of the US government’s imagination, while they are telling the Iranian people that they are not giving up their right to produce nuclear weapons.

Before we can know if any agreement with Iran is good or bad, we have to know what the agreement is. Thus far, we don’t. The sales campaigns for any agreement with Iran are at this point premature.

Let us hope that if any agreement does take place, it actually prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. If it doesn’t prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it will be less than meaningless. It will trigger greater risks from Iran by halting the very economic sanctions that have so far slowed Iranian weapons development. We look forward to reviewing an actual agreement, if and when one is proposed.

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4 comments on “Iran Nuclear Talks–Intelligence Perspective and Worrisome Questions

  1. Don Royster says:

    Good piece. This is the reason I believe a wait-and-see is what is needed. I do believe that those who would nix any discussion with Iran or other potential adversaries are going in the wrong direction. I am thinking of the sixties and seventies when we were negotiating with the old Soviet Union. I am also believing these negotiations are just a starting point for better relations with Iran.

    Netanyahu has never seen a negotiation he liked. So I expect he is going to yell and scream about any negotiations the US would have with Iran.

    I look at the damage the Saudis and the Pakistanis have done in the Middle East. The Saudis funding the religious schools in Pakistan and other activities which have produced groups like the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS. The Pakistani secret service supporting terrorists like Bin Loden. And these are our allies. It was not Iranians on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. It was Saudis.

    I see our negotiations with Iran the way Nixon saw his trip to China. He saw it as a check against the Soviet Union. And it worked.

    Maybe this is naive but I am not ready to throw in the towel with the Iranians.

    Unfortunately I see President Obama making many of the mistakes with Congress that President Wilson making. It seems to me that in many ways their presidencies parallel.

  2. AAYUSH's says:

    No other option than having good relations with Iran. It would give laverage against pakistan also it would be a great help against sunni terrorist groups like taliban and al-quaeda. Iran is 10 times better than so called USallies like pakistan and saudi. Even if Iran develops a nuclear material, it would be a much responsible country unlike N. Korea and Pakistan which use nuclear umbrella to breed terrorista and do cyber attacks on others.
    No other options left.

  3. Jay Holmes says:

    Hi AAYUSH.

    You make good points but you and I make some different interpretations. I don’t think that it helps the region to use a nuclear Iran as a leverage against Pakistan. While the average Iranian citizens might be a very reasonable, educated persons, they are not the ones running Iran. The average Iranian has very little influence over the actions of the Republican Guards and or their ayatollah bosses.

    For over three decades, the Iranian junta has consistently shown a willingness to directly finance, train, and command terrorist activity. Hezbollah is the obvious well known case. Like the Kim dictators in North Korea, the Iranian Junta has consistently expressed an intent to see the United States and Western Civilization destroyed. The fact that the average Iranian might view such rhetoric as foolish does not make the junta less dangerous to its neighbors, Israel, or anyone that they happen to dislike at any given moment.

    The fact that Pakistan is not a great ally to anyone, including to themselves, does not make Iran a better potential friend. I am not going to trust a government that happily hangs teenagers because they are accused of homosexuality or hangs women for having sex. Given the Iranian junta’s long history of unkindness toward Iranians, I am not going to expect them to treat anyone else any better.

    I enjoyed reading your blog. You have some informative articles. In particular, I love the pictures of historical locations in India. I have not had the pleasure of visiting India, but I hope that I will get to see it in this lifetime. Your pictures greatly improved my day.

    I encourage our readers to take a moment to view your pictures from India.

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