Tagged: Iran

A Good Deal with Iran

Last week, the Field Guide took on the critics of the Iran deal. This week we get further into the deal’s specifics, showing why it’s by far the best option for the US and world community, in its effort to head off Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear weapons can be fueled by plutonium or uranium. The Iran deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), tackles Iran’s ability to use either material as a basis for a weapon.

Plutonium does not occur in nature – it must be produced. Production requires a specific type of nuclear reactor. Iran has such a reactor at Arak. However under JCPOA, Iran will modify that facility to minimize plutonium production. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will participate in Arak’s redesign and reconstruction, and the entire site will be subject to constant IAEA surveillance – before, during and after.

Uranium, by comparison, is relatively plentiful in nature. But for uranium to be used in a nuclear weapon, it must first be “enriched.” Uranium enrichment is a complex process requiring, among other things, the use of sophisticated centrifuges. JCPOA controls both the quantity and quality of Iran’s centrifuges, while also placing hard and fast limits on the quantity and quality of enriched uranium that Iran can possess. The reductions in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure are dramatic. Iran’s operational basic centrifuges will be reduced by more than two-thirds. All of their advanced centrifuges will be shut down. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be reduced by 98%. Relevant sites will be subject to constant IAEA monitoring. Iran’s release from sanctions is contingent on the IAEA’s verification of compliance.

JCPOA’s strictures are tough enough to have won the endorsement of many nuclear scientists. Other commentators suggest that Iran’s considerable concessions are without precedent for a country that was not defeated militarily. Abroad, there is no real debate on the virtues of JCPOA – the other parties (China, France, Russia, UK, Germany) are poised to move ahead. So why, then, does the US Congress appear so divided? The main reason is the influence of pro-Israel lobbying groups. But this only begs the question: why is Israel opposed to the deal, particularly if several leaders within Israel have warned that Iran will shortly be able to obtain nuclear weapons under the existing sanctions regime, in the absence of JCPOA?

Israel has more skin in this game than any other player, and so their trepidation must be taken seriously. As detailed in an insightful article in the Atlantic, Israel is faced with two unattractive and unavoidable outcomes. Under sanctions alone, Iran will remain relatively impoverished, but will obtain a nuclear weapon, and more likely sooner than later. Under the deal just struck, Iran will grow wealthier, but is much less likely to obtain a nuclear weapon. As the article puts it, “Israel either has an Iran with nukes, or an Iran that is powerful regionally in every other way.”

Our best guess is that Israel, wisely or not, wants to have it both ways. They want Iran to be kept in financial straits under sanctions. And should Iran come too close to developing a weapon, Israel would use a military strike to keep them in check, as they did in 1981, when the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak.

There is an even more cynical interpretation. Israel remains the beneficiary of three billion dollars of US military aid per year. Having made peace with Egypt and Jordan, and with Syria a shambles, that aid is increasingly difficult to justify. Since Iran is now Israel’s only significant regional threat, it could be that elements within Israel see a warming of relations between the US and Iran as undercutting the remaining rationale for the flow of all that cash.

Taking the broadest of views, over the long haul, the US and Iran are not adversaries across every dimension. JCPOA is not a zero-sum game: as trade between Iran and the US and its allies increases, all sides will grow richer. Over time, close trade relations can become a basis for better relations in all areas, and can grow into a bulwark against aggression. As the Field Guide has frequently noted, trade and affluence are democracy’s best foot-soldiers. As Iranians grow wealthier, they will come to demand political power commensurate with their material well-being. This is the dynamic that secured democracy across the globe, from France, England and the US, to Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. In the very long term, the wealthier Iran becomes, the more likely that its interests, and those of the West, will align.


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The Iran Deal and its Malcontents

The deal with Iran will very likely be a fundamental part of US foreign policy and world geopolitics for many years to come. And it seems to be a pretty good deal. The point of departure for any analysis is that sanctions alone would never have stopped Iran from building a bomb. Sanctions didnt stop North Korea, who only built their bomb after Bush Duh killed the Agreed Framework, which was secured by Clinton, in favor of a sanctions-only approach. This is why trading sanctions for inspections is the right move. The overarching US goal was to make that trade on the best possible terms. It’s a big improvement over the status quo.

Opponents to the deal rarely offer specifics on what they believe to be lacking. The naked assertion that “negotiators could have done better” could have been posited in the aftermath of any deal. And it’s worth noting that almost no one who makes that criticism goes on to explain why they think a better deal could have been had. Many supporters of the deal have expressed surprise that Iran conceded so much.

Critics fall into a few camps. By far the largest entirely avoid specifics – they oppose the deal because they oppose it, and we might dismiss their viewpoint for its arationality. Next are the miscreants who decry a 24-day waiting period for inspections. There is no such waiting period – this misrepresentation has been likened to the “death panel” lie that the right peddled in its attempt to discredit Obamacare.

One small group of critics suggest that the US should have first strengthened sanctions, and then negotiated a better deal from a stronger position. It’s an interesting point, but unconvincing. The US depends on many nations to partner with on sanctions to make them effective – doing so takes a very long time, and it’s not clear that the effort would have succeeded. Meanwhile, Iran would have continued work on its nuclear program.

There’s a very small group that takes issue with some of the deal’s specifics. Senator Lindsay Graham, for example, has complained that the number of centrifuges should have been reduced more. However the reduction that was obtained pushes out Iran’s nuclear timetable (to obtain a critical mass of fissile uranium) from two months to one year. Senator Chuck Schumer complains that the deal only runs for ten years – without explaining why he thinks that the sanctions regime would have prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon within ten years. Many, including the present Israeli Prime Minister, have asserted that under the status quo, Iran would develop a weapon in just one or two years.

A basis for concern seemed to emerge when the AP reported a secret side agreement to the larger deal, called “separate arrangement II” or sometimes “the Parchin agreement.” Ostensibly, it’s a draft of an agreement between the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran, granting to Iran the authority to conduct its own inspections of certain military sites. Upon closer scrutiny, the AP story seems to have been written to generate a maximum of controversy over a largely trivial set of facts.

The agreement purports to cover only a one-time inspection of a very minor site. The inspection has to be signed off on by the IAEA for Iran to get relief from sanctions. The stakes on this inspection are very low for the US, but very high for Iran. The head of the IAEA came out with a public statement dismissing the AP story as a misrepresentation, and asserting that the inspections regimes it has secured with Iran are consistent with long-established IAEA practices. In sum, the AP story is a red herring, calculated to inspire fear in people who dont have the facts.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Iran deal include 36 top US military leaders, who state bluntly in their open letter, “There is no better option to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon”; and 29 scientists, including six Nobel laureates, who attest to the deal’s efficacy; as well as five other heads of state, who were partners of the US to the negotiations, and are parties to the deal.

The Iran deal is a huge diplomatic coup for the Obama administration, and has been enthusiastically embraced in other countries as the West’s best opportunity to avoid war, and as a vast improvement over the status quo. Coverage of the deal continues next week, when the Field Guide takes up its substance, politics and geopolitics.


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24-day waiting period debunked:


AP story on the Parchin side agreement debunked:




critiquing the critics:



the ays:



the AP story:


spectacular analysis:





Iran Dealings

The Field Guide has taken a hard line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Iran cannot be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon, and US military force should be applied, as a last resort, to prevent it. But reciprocally, this means that any prospective deal with Iran must be pursued to the fullest, given the alternative.

A deal with Iran isnt just about blocking its path to a nuclear weapon. It should be seen as part of a larger plan to integrate Iran, politically and economically, back into the community of nations. The removal of sanctions will lead to the considerable enrichment of Iranians, raise many from poverty, and expand the ranks of its middle-class and wealthy. It will create and strengthen ties across borders, between Iranians and economic actors in other countries.

In the long-term, as a populace grows in wealth, political actors will become more wary of pursuing policies that degrade living standards. This dynamic will prove a far better safeguard against war than the agreement itself. When it was announced that a framework for a deal had been struck, people in Tehran spontaneously took to the streets in celebration – a fact not missed by Iran’s rulers, who are already under pressure to reach an agreement. Should a final deal be reached, and sanctions be lifted, the pressure to uphold it will only increase over time as Iranians grow more prosperous.

Even the world’s poorest countries can readily develop nuclear weapons under the right conditions. Governments like North Korea’s persist with little internal resistance because they control virtually all of the country’s resources. Sanctions only reinforce the status quo, because they undermine industry, which naturally rises up as a counter to centralized state power. By comparison, totalitarian regimes like those in Iran and China will inevitably yield power to an increasingly affluent populace, by the same historical processes that brought democracy to places as diverse as England, France, the US, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

And this is why the lifting of sanctions should not be seen as a point of weakness for any prospective Iran deal, but as the key to long-term peace and security. Of course, any deal must provide for inspectors’ unfettered access to sites of interest. And the West must retain the power to reimpose economic sanctions should Iran fall out of compliance; and also to impose sanctions in response to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. While a deal is to the mutual advantage of all parties, it should be based on verifiability, not trust. But over the long haul, the deal will become self-sustaining, as international trade and shared prosperity make war too expensive to fathom.


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