Iran deal leaves ma­jor ques­tions un­re­solved


The frame­work nu­clear deal sealed by world pow­ers and Iran leaves ma­jor ques­tions: Could Iran cheat? Pos­si­bly. Would the U.S or any­one else be able to re­spond in time? In the­ory, yes. Are they pre­pared to use mil­i­tary force? Ques­tion­able.

Would a fi­nal deal set­tle global fears about Iran’s in­ten­tions? Al­most surely, no.

But the sur­pris­ingly de­tailed fact sheet re­leased by the United States af­ter Thurs­day’s diplo­matic break­through in Switzer­land pro­vides U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sig­nif­i­cant ammunition for the fight he’ll face sell­ing an agree­ment to skep­ti­cal U.S. law­mak­ers and Mid­dle East al­lies. That is, if ne­go­tia­tors can get to that point over the next three months.

As Obama said from the White House, “Their work, our work, is not yet done and suc­cess is not guar­an­teed.” And the pa­ram­e­ters for a com­pre­hen­sive ac­cord by June 30 still in­clude big holes for Wash­ing­ton and its ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners.

The lim­its are vague on Iran’s re­search and devel­op­ment of ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy that could be used for pro­duc­ing nu­clear weapons. In­spec­tors still might not be able to en­ter Ira­nian mil­i­tary sites where nu­clear work pre­vi­ously took place. The Amer­i­cans and Ira­ni­ans al­ready are bickering over how fast eco­nomic sanc­tions on Iran would be re­laxed. And Obama’s as­ser­tion that the penal­ties could al­ways be snapped back into force is un­der­mined by the U.S. fact sheet de­scrib­ing a “dis­pute res­o­lu­tion process” en­shrined in the agree­ment.

‘break­out time’

But the big­gest is­sue may be one U.S. of­fi­cials have em­pha­sized above all oth­ers: the “break­out time” Iran would need to sur­rep­ti­tiously pro­duce a nu­clear weapon. The frame­work im­poses a com­bi­na­tion of re­stric­tions that would leave Iran need­ing to work for at least a year to ac­com­plish that goal, rather than the two-to-three months cur­rently.

Obama and Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry have cited the longer break­out pe­riod as proof they’ve se­cured a “good deal” and say the oneyear win­dow is enough time for the U.S. to de­tect a covert Ira­nian push to­ward a bomb and to re­spond.

That stan­dard would hold only for a decade, how­ever. Over the fol­low­ing five years, it’s un­clear how far Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram would be kept from the bomb. And af­ter the 15-year deal ex­pires com­pletely, there ap­pear to be no con­straints left to speak of — some­thing con­gres­sional op­po­nents and Iran’s re­gional ri­vals Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia point to as ev­i­dence of a “bad deal.”

“This deal would pose a grave dan­ger to the re­gion and to the world and would threaten the very sur­vival of the State of Is­rael,” Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu said af­ter an Is­raeli cabi­net meet­ing Fri­day. “In a few years,” he said, “the deal would re­move the re­stric­tions on Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, en­abling Iran to have a mas­sive en­rich­ment ca­pac­ity that it could use to pro­duce many nu­clear bombs within a mat­ter of months.”

Th­ese mat­ters and many more will now be weighed by a Congress that has watched im­pa­tiently over 18 months of ne­go­ti­a­tions. Repub­li­cans are al­most uni­ver­sally op­posed to Obama’s diplo­matic ef­fort; Demo- crats are di­vided. To­gether they’ll look at two pos­si­ble pathways for con­gres­sional in­ter­ven­tion.

‘play a con­struc­tive over­sight


The first would give law­mak­ers an up-or-down vote on a deal, some­thing Obama may be amenable to de­spite past op­po­si­tion. He stated his con­fi­dence Thurs­day in be­ing able to demon­strate that an ac­cord will ad­vance U.S. and world se­cu­rity, and said his aides would en­gage Congress on how it can “play a con­struc­tive over­sight role.”

The sec­ond po­ten­tial con­gres­sional ac­tion is more risky: im­pos­ing new sanc­tions on Iran’s econ­omy. That could end the diplo­macy al­to­gether by jeop­ar­diz­ing the ba­sic for­mula for a fi­nal pact: re­moval of West­ern sanc­tions in ex­change for stricter nu­clear lim­its.

But Obama has more work­ing in his fa­vor now than he did last year when the ne­go­ti­a­tions twice missed dead­lines. Even then, his ad­min­is­tra­tion man­aged to hold off con­gres­sional pres­sure.

This week’s deal would com­pel Iran to cut in half the num­ber of cen­trifuges it has spin­ning ura­nium. No bomb-mak­ing ma­te­rial could be fed into ma­chines at a deeply buried un­der­ground fa­cil­ity that may be im­per­vi­ous to air attack. Ad­vanced cen­trifuge mod­els would be dis­con­nected. A heavy wa­ter plant would not be al­lowed to pro­duce weapon­s­grade plu­to­nium. In­spec­tions would in­crease. And the l ong- t erm arc of Iran’s nu­clear ac­tiv­ity could well ar­gue for con­tin­ued diplo­macy. The ad­min­is­tra­tion and other sup­port­ers of the agree­ment note that in the years Wash­ing­ton re­fused to talk to Tehran, de­manded that Iran stop all en­rich­ment and sought a to­tal dis­man­tle­ment of its nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties, the Ira­ni­ans ex­panded from sev­eral dozen cen­trifuges to a ca­pac­ity of 20,000. They es­tab­lished a sec­ondary site at a for­ti­fied un­der­ground bunker. They be­gan en­rich­ing ura­nium to lev­els just be­low weapons-grade.

Since Novem­ber 2013, Iran is op­er­at­ing only 9,000 cen­trifuges and that num­ber is to drop to just over 6,000. The Ira­ni­ans aren’t pro­duc­ing any higher-en­riched ura­nium any­more and are to ship out or neu­tral­ize most of their stock­piles. The threat of a plu­to­nium bomb seems set­tled at least for now. The Ira­ni­ans say they don’t seek nu­clear arms, with their pro­gram fo­cused only on en­ergy, med­i­cal and re­search ob­jec­tives. Iran will “re­main loyal and stand by prom­ises,” Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani said Fri­day.

‘Ev­ery el­e­ment is sub­ject to


Obama and his top ad­vis­ers don’t be­lieve the Ira­ni­ans on that front. But they say the agree­ment makes Iran’s claims at least ver­i­fi­able and does far more than sanc­tions or mil­i­tary ac­tion to en­sure Iran doesn’t as­sem­ble an atomic ar­se­nal.

“To be clear, there is no as­pect of this agree­ment that is based on prom­ises or trust,” Kerry said in an opin­ion piece in the Bos­ton Globe Fri­day. “Ev­ery el­e­ment is sub­ject to proof.”

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