Weighing Concerns and Assurances about a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: A Briefing Book
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The results of the past two years of negotiations have so far been positive and on many key points, better than expected. A negotiating team is best judged by results; so far, results have exceeded expectations. When announced, the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was initially criticized by some analysts. Over time it has become widely viewed as stronger than anticipated and its implementation is generally viewed as an unexpected success. Under the terms of the JPOA, Iran agreed not to produce 20% enrichment in return for modest sanctions relief. In particular, the verification and monitoring provisions were expanded in scope and more intrusive than the experts had anticipated. With the announcement of the framework agreement on April 2, an impressive number of analysts have been surprised at both the level of detail and the robustness of the nonproliferation provisions.
- John Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said that he was “pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here.”4
- Longtime American skeptics of the negotiations cautiously praised the framework.5
- Some Israeli commentators have offered a similar assessment. Efraim Halevy, the former chief of Mossad, has called the framework “historic,” saying one would have “never believed Iran would ever agree to discuss these issues, let alone agree to each of the clauses.”6
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A comprehensive agreement will expand substantially the knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program. A deeper and more comprehensive accounting of Iran’s activities will come from an expanded and more intrusive safeguards system extending for the first time ever to uranium mines and mills and to the creation of a new, transparent procurement channel. These new measures will make it exceedingly difficult for Iran to carry out a parallel, covert weapons program since inspectors will be able to know exactly how much uranium is going into the inspected program. If the numbers do not add up, evidence will point to a violation. The procurement channel will greatly simplify verification and enforcement of imports. Any sensitive import not carried out in the channel, highly likely to be detected by national intelligence collection on the basis of past experience, will be ipso facto a violation, regardless of what use Tehran claims the item is intended for.
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No such precedent exists. In 70 years of nuclear history, there is not a single case of proliferation of nuclear weapons caused by a safeguarded enrichment program which is what Iran will have after an agreement. There have been 10 nuclear weapons states.24 Some weapons programs began in response to another country’s nuclear weapons program, others to actual nuclear tests, but none to a safeguarded enrichment program. Governments tend to be reactive by nature, not proactive—and nuclear weapons are not a small undertaking. Non-nuclear weapons states that have safeguarded enrichment programs, such as Japan and Brazil, have not caused neighboring countries to initiate nuclear weapons programs.
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Limited enrichment infrastructure not seen as regional threat. If nations were threatened by peaceful nuclear programs, then the states in the region would have done something over the past decade to match that capability. They have not. Iran has had centrifuges since 2003, but Saudi Arabia and others have done virtually nothing in response. Domestically developed facilities of this sort can be expensive, technically demanding, and time-consuming to construct. Countries with a greater trust in the international system, such as Saudi Arabia, that want to assure the availability or possess an interest in such facilities, should be encouraged to invest in international arrangements with others who have already perfected the technology.
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The agreements with Iran and North Korea are far more different than they are similar. The main differences were that the agreed framework with North Korea focused specifically on its plutonium program and failed to address uranium enrichment, and did not have sufficient implementation oversight. North Korea also had already produced more than enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon; this is not the case of Iran. The framework agreement with Iran includes eliminating the plutonium and severely restricting the uranium pathways, with extraordinarily complex monitoring and implementation. The verification measures already implemented under the JPOA and the new obligations anticipated in the final comprehensive agreement are far stronger and of longer duration than those in the Agreed Framework with North Korea. Under the agreement, Iran will not have enough nuclear material for a single nuclear weapon. In the 20 years since the Agreed Framework, the United States has developed more robust intelligence and verification capabilities that are, in any case, more effectively deployed towards a country such as Iran compared to the reclusive Hermit Kingdom.30
The North Korea case reinforces the need for the United States and others to comply with their obligations. The North Korea’s leaders have argued that one of the reasons it decided to break the Agreed Framework agreement was that the United States failed to comply with its obligation to provide more heavy oil fuel and assistance to North Korea. The United States must not give Iran an excuse to withdraw from a comprehensive agreement.
The North Korea case remains, nonetheless, the only case of the failure to successfully maintain safeguards agreements negotiated under the nonprolifera- tion treaty and a second such case must be avoided. Tehran, unlike Pyongyang, has to consider public opinion, which is strongly demanding the end of international pariah status and economically painful sanctions. Iran is not a democracy, but it is far from a dictatorship.
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Iran will be able to do R&D; there are few legal mechanisms to prohibit it. There is no legal or other basis for banning R&D–not in NPT, not in UN Security Council resolutions, not in previous proliferation and arms-control agreements. Many countries, including American allies, would object to attempting to impose a ban on R&D because of the precedent it would set. Verification of such a ban would be difficult.
Banning R&D and dismantling the enrichment program would create a new and dangerous proliferation threat. If a large cadre of nuclear scientists and engineers were to become unemployed with no legitimate or peaceful project to work on, some might be persuaded to work for foreign countries that are potential proliferators. Others might stay home and become advocates for an Iranian clandestine program.