Get­ting fi­nal deal won’t be sim­ple

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ralph Vartabe­dian and Paul Richter ralph.var­tebe­dian@la­ paul.richter@la­ Vartabe­dian re­ported from L.A. and Richter from Lau­sanne, Switzer­land.

Ne­go­ti­at­ing in­spec­tions and other de­tails will be chal­leng­ing, arms ex­perts say.

A pre­lim­i­nary agree­ment that would cur­tail Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram raised hope around the world that the na­tion could be pre­vented from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons. But just 24 hours af­ter the deal was struck, there ap­peared to be sharp dis­agree­ment over the de­tails in the pack­age.

The U.S. State Depart­ment out­lined 43 spe­cific points it said would limit Iran’s in­ven­tory of en­riched ura­nium, fur­lough its industrial equip­ment, con­vert a se­cret nu­clear en­rich­ment fa­cil­ity to a re­search cen­ter and cre­ate an in­spec­tion pro­gram to en­sure fu­ture com­pli­ance. But the dis­clo­sure trig­gered a sharp re­tort by Ira­nian of­fi­cials that the U.S. was spin­ning its own ver­sion of the frame­work agree­ment.

The ex­change high­lights the se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties that the U.S. and five other world pow­ers face in ne­go­ti­at­ing a de­tailed fi­nal agree­ment in an en­vi­ron­ment of deep dis­trust.

Nu­clear weapons and arms con­trol ex­perts warned Fri­day that although the agree­ment looks good in prin­ci­ple, ne­go­ti­at­ing a legally bind­ing doc­u­ment is likely to be harder than ex­pected, par­tic­u­larly in the area of verification and in­spec­tions.

“There is no Iran agree­ment, but rather a state­ment of prin­ci­ples that has to be fleshed out,” said Lin­ton Brooks, a for­mer U.S. nu­clear weapons chief and the fi­nal ne­go­tia­tor of the first strate­gic arms lim­i­ta­tion agree­ment be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia. “Noth­ing is agreed to un­til ev­ery­thing is agreed to.”

The deal is fuzzy on how world pow­ers are go­ing to pun­ish any Ira­nian rule­break­ing. That’s a big is­sue to skep­tics be­cause all too of­ten, rule-break­ing in such agree­ments leads to tan­gled le­gal­is­tic dis­putes rather than force­ful re­sponse.

The U.S. made a num­ber of ma­jor con­ces­sions in the pro­posed agree­ment, in­clud­ing giv­ing up the hope of fun­da­men­tally dis­man­tling Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, which leaves Iran as es­sen­tially a thresh­old nu­clear weapons power for as long as 25 years. En­ergy Sec­re­tary Ernest Moniz said that the deal would lengthen the time it would take Iran to de­velop a nu­clear weapon to at least a year, rather than the two to three months it would now re­quire.

The prospect of no agree­ment left world pow­ers fear­ing a worse out­come.

“The present frame­work po­lit­i­cal deal is bet­ter than no deal,” Alexei Ar­ba­tov, a Rus­sian arms con­trol ex­pert whose work is pub­lished by the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, wrote on the en­dow­ment’s web­site. A fail­ure of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, he said, “would make the new war in the [Persian] Gulf in­evitable, with dire im­pli­ca­tions for in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity and the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion regime.”

Un­der the pre­lim­i­nary deal, Iran would moth­ball two-thirds of its newer high­speed cen­trifuges that en­rich ura­nium, go­ing from 19,000 de­vices to 6,104 older ma­chines. It would re­duce its stock­pile of low-en­riched ura­nium from 4,500 pounds to 136 pounds and not build any new fa­cil­i­ties for en­rich­ment for 15 years.

Forc­ing Iran to rely on the old ma­chines should im­pose pow­er­ful re­straints on Iran’s abil­ity to race to com­plete a bomb in the next decade “and likely be­yond,” Jodi Joseph, a for­mer non­pro­lif­er­a­tion aide in the Obama White House, wrote in an email.

Iran can con­tinue to en­rich fuel, but only to a level use­ful for a com­mer­cial elec­tri­cal power re­ac­tor. It would also be re­quired to con­vert a re­ac­tor in Arak that can cre­ate plu­to­nium, a key tech­ni­cal step in build­ing a hy­dro­gen bomb.

Iran hasn’t con­ceded many of the de­tails de­scribed in the State Depart­ment sum­mary of the agree­ment. And of­fi­cials haven’t said how they plan to pare their ura­nium stock­pile, whether by ship­ping the ma­te­rial to Rus­sia, as they had ap­par­ently promised last year, or by diluting it or chem­i­cally mod­i­fy­ing it. Ex­port­ing the ma­te­rial would give the out­side world much greater re­as­sur­ance that it would not be di­verted for use as bomb fuel, many ex­perts say.

Michael Elle­man, a se­nior fel­low at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies and a for­mer United Na­tions weapons in­spec­tor in Iraq, called it “the best agree­ment that could have been real­is­ti­cally achieved,” but said he was con­cerned about the ap­par­ent ab­sence of a track­ing sys­tem for Iran’s key nu­clear pro­gram sci­en­tists and man­agers.

“In Iraq, we had ac­cess to every­body,” he said. “If you can track every­body and where they are, it is very dif­fi­cult to cre­ate a break­out pro­gram. The Ira­ni­ans have been de­ceit­ful in the past. Th­ese are smart guys and they are re­source­ful.”

But of all the de­tails to be worked out, noth­ing will be as dif­fi­cult as an agree­ment on verification and in­spec­tion, U.S. ex­perts said.

Brooks said the frame­work is sim­i­lar to the state­ment that came out of the 1987 meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Rea­gan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev.

“I fin­ished ne­go­ti­at­ing the agree­ment four years later, and all of that time was spent on verification,” Brooks said. “It is pre­ma­ture to make any fi­nal con­clu­sion un­til you see the de­tails. If all of the things in there [the State Depart­ment sum­mary] were done, it is a pretty good deal.”

Siegfried Hecker, for­mer direc­tor of Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory, said the verification pro­ce­dures out­lined in the U.S. fact sheet are rig­or­ous and it is “quite sur­pris­ing that Iran agreed to them, (if they have).

“Sus­pi­cions will linger for years be­cause of the mis­trust,” he said in an email.

Philip Coyle, a for­mer deputy direc­tor of Lawrence Liver­more Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory, chief of nu­clear weapons testing and a re­cent ad­vi­sor to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, said Soviet Union of­fi­cials re­peat­edly ac­cused the U.S. of at­tempt­ing to spy on them dur­ing verification in­spec­tions, call­ing it a form of “le­gal­ized es­pi­onage.”

The strate­gic weapons treaties be­tween Rus­sia and the U.S. in­volved hun­dreds of in­spec­tions and mas­sive in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy to ver­ify that the agree­ments were be­ing up­held. Rus­sian mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and their U.S. coun­ter­parts made de­tailed vis­its to each oth­ers’ weapons plants and mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions.

“Verification is al­ways dif­fi­cult in any agree­ment or treaty and if there is not a lot of trust to start with, it makes it all the harder,” Coyle said.

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