Those hidden costs are even higher than we think
By Kristen Silverberg Mike’s piece from earlier today is balanced and thoughtful, but I don’t agree with his view that completion of this deal will provide the United States with valuable insight on Iran, other than to remind us that the Iranians are shrewd negotiators. Iran is getting more out of the deal than it’s ...
Mike’s piece from earlier today is balanced and thoughtful, but I don’t agree with his view that completion of this deal will provide the United States with valuable insight on Iran, other than to remind us that the Iranians are shrewd negotiators. Iran is getting more out of the deal than it’s giving. Although it has been described as a P5+1 breakthrough, ultimately the deal may undermine U.S. efforts to resolve the nuclear issue.
The argument in favor of the deal is that a decision by Iran to ship most of its enriched uranium stocks out of the country would give the United States and its allies assurance that, at least in the short-term, Iran could not deploy a nuclear weapon. Advocates of the deal say that for the time it would take Iran to restock its supply of low enriched uranium and then to further enrich the supplies to weapons grade fuel, the international community could rest easier knowing Iran would not be in a position to deploy a nuclear weapon.
It is not clear how much time Iran would need to restock its supply of low enriched uranium given the IAEA report that Iran has greatly enhanced its enrichment capabilities in recent months. Iran has now installed 8,300 centrifuges at Natanz, although they are using only 4,600, so may have the capability to speed up enrichment efforts when they decide to bring the additional centrifuges on line. Moreover, the disclosure of a hidden facility at Qom reminds us of the low likelihood that we have a complete picture of enrichment activities in Iran. At most, the deal will buy about a year in which the international community may be at decreased risk of an Iranian effort to move to breakout.
In exchange, the deal comes with an implicit (and perhaps explicit) understanding that the P5+1 will not impose additional sanctions. Once the fuel leaves Iran, it will much harder to convince the Europeans, let alone the Russians and Chinese, that continued pressure is appropriate. They will interpret and tout the deal as an example of Iran’s willingness to negotiate in good faith and will drop talk of further sanctions. As Iran’s Provisional Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said at Friday prayers in Tehran a week ago, “Prior to the talks, they used to speak of suspension and sanctions against Iran but after the talks, there has not been any word of suspension or sanctions.”
As a practical matter, as Mike points out, Iran will have earned the international community’s acceptance of its continued enrichment activities. In other words, the international community may think it can breathe easier for a year, but, in exchange, the Iranians will have taken themselves off the hook for further sanctions indefinitely.
The deal looks even worse if you credit the views of experts who believe the current Iranian supply of LEU may be defective. If that’s true, Iran hasn’t sacrificed anything to earn itself the right to continued enrichment.
And, of course, the deal, negotiated in direct talks between the U.S. and the Iranian regime, puts the United States in the position of legitimizing a government whose legitimacy has been courageously challenged by the Iranian people.
The real purpose and impact of the deal was the one Director General Elbaradei outlined in his press conference: “I very much hope that people see the big picture, see that this agreement could open the way for a complete normalization of relations between Iran and the international community.” This agreement is designed to relieve tensions, not to resolve the continued threat of Iran’s nuclear program.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.