Decoding the Iran Nuclear Deal
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[PRO] Yes, it will reduce the risk of Iran getting a bomb better than any of the realistic alternatives. Iran has agreed to physical limits on its ability to produce weapons-grade materials that will assure a break-out timeline of roughly a year for the next 10 years, as well as additional restraints and verification measures to mon- itor compliance and detect cheating. If the U.S. rejects the deal and returns to sanctions, Iran is certain to return to what it was doing before the interim agreement: installing additional cen- trifuges, enriching uranium, increasing its stockpile of enriched material, developing more advanced centrifuges, and complet- ing the Arak heavy water reactor. The agreement does not solve the problem, but it reduces the risk for now and buys substantial time to resolve the threat in the future.
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[CON] No, the parameters do not prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons over the long term. Iran is allowed to retain too much nuclear infrastructure and the restrictions do not last long enough. The limits on Iran’s enrichment program taper off after 10 years and are completely removed after 15 years. If it is unacceptable for Iran to have a large scale enrichment program now, why would it be permissible a decade or so from now? How could the U.S. have any confidence that the nature of the Iranian regime and its interest in acquiring nuclear weapons–which goes back 30 years–will change in 10 years? In addition, the verification provisions are not strong enough, especially provisions requiring Iran to fully account for past weaponization activities.
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[CON] No, even if breakout is detected, the international community might not be able to reach agreement quickly enough to stop Iran. A greater cushion is needed. Moreover, these calculations apply only to Iran’s known facilities, but most experts believe that a far more likely path to nuclear weapons would be use of secret facilities. That is why verification provisions–including understanding past weapons work, accounting of current centri- fuge inventories, imposing tight restrictions on procurement of nuclear materials and equipment, and ensuring access to suspect sites–are so important. Under the tentative agreement, these extra verification provisions are not permanent, meaning that it will be easier for Iran to construct secret nuclear facilities in the future, once physical restraints have been lifted.
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[CON] Iranian President Rouhani boasted that when he was Iran’s nuclear negotiator, he bought time for the program with tempo- rary restrictions: “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan [the Iranian plant that converts solid uranium to gas for use in enrichment centrifuges], but we still had a long way to go to complete the project. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work on Isfahan.” In 10-15 years, Iran will be free of sanctions and free to build as many centrifuges as it wants. The administration has traded sanctions relief for temporary restrictions.
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[PRO] Realistically, Iran would not agree to limits in perpetuity or limits subject to a decision of the UN Security Council about Iran’s future behavior. The 15 year time frame is long enough to test whether Iran is serious about giving up its effort to develop nuclear weapons. Assuming that the agreement holds for the next 15 years, changes may take place in the Iranian government or Iran’s relations with the U.S. and other countries in the region. At that time, the president will then face a choice whether to accept an expansion of Iran’s enrichment program or to oppose it if he or she believes that Iran is still seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
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[CON] Iran has a dismal record of compliance with its international obligations. Almost ten years ago, the IAEA Board of Gover- nors found that Iran had violated its safeguards agreement on multiple occasions over an extended period of time. Because the deal does not force Iran to address fully past nuclear weapons activities, there is no reliable baseline for verifying future work. In addition, many of the strongest verification measures in the tentative deal fade away after 20 years, which will leave Iran in a stronger position to cheat.
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[PRO] The agreement is based on verification, not trust. According to the U.S. fact sheet, Iran has agreed to accept the IAEA’s Addi- tional Protocol as well as several even more intrusive monitoring and inspection measures that will provide high confidence that Iran is not making bomb material at its declared nuclear facili- ties and will significantly strengthen the ability of inspectors to detect clandestine facilities. Of course, no verification measures are perfect. In the end, good intelligence is the most important tool for detecting secret activities, but intelligence and enhanced inspections will complement each other, making it less likely that Iran will take the risk of pursuing secret activities and more likely that the U.S. will catch Iran if it tries.
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[PRO] In the absence of an agreement–with Iran’s enrichment program expanding without limits–the pressure on other countries in the Middle East to develop their own nuclear option would be even greater. Nonetheless, some other countries in the region will try to emulate Iran’s enrichment program that is permitted under the agreement. However, as a practical matter, none of the other countries in the region can establish an enrichment program without extensive foreign assistance, just as Iran’s enrichment program is based on an infusion of technology from Pakistan. Fortunately, none of the established nuclear suppliers will sell fuel cycle technology to the Middle East, so the U.S. will have to watch closely to ensure that North Korea, Pakistan or black marketers do not secretly transfer enrichment technology to the region.
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[CON] An agreement that doesn’t address these other issues, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism, will make the overall Iranian threat even worse. As sanctions are lifted, the Iranian regime will have more resources to invest in a military build up and expand its influence in the region. More- over, once an agreement is in place, the U.S. and the other P5+1 countries will be more reluctant to challenge Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region for fear of jeopardizing the nuclear deal.
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[PRO] The agreement involves a gamble, but walking away at this point would be a much bigger gamble. With the other P5+1 countries supporting the political framework, the U.S. would be hard- pressed to convince the others to return to intensified sanctions. Even if the U.S. could get others on board, there is no certainty that Washington can increase economic pressure on Supreme Leader Khamenei and the hardliners in Iran to the point that they are forced to come back to the table and accept tougher terms. In the meantime, Tehran will resume nuclear activities currently frozen under the interim agreement and probably expand its program. Iran could bring additional centrifuges on line, increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and resume construction of the 40MW Arak heavy water research reactor. Most concerning, Iran could rebuild its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium and even begin production of 60% or 90% enriched uranium under the pretext of peaceful uses. These steps would bring Iran much closer to a credible breakout option and increase the risk of a preemptive military attack by Israel or the United States.