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Good and Bad of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Caution and Selective Cooperation Ahead

| July 14, 2015

iranian nuclear deal

Getting ready for a potentially historic agreement. (IRNA)

By Richard Haass

It is probable that after 60 days of intense debate in Washington, DC, and conceivably Tehran, the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” signed on July 14 by Iran and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany (the P5+1), will enter into force. But no one should confuse this outcome with a solution to the problem of Iran’s nuclear ambitions or its contributions to the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. On the contrary, depending on how it is implemented and enforced, the agreement could make matters worse.

This is not to suggest the JCPOA makes no contribution. It places a ceiling for the next decade on the quantity and quality of centrifuges Iran is allowed to operate and allows the country to possess only a small amount of low-enriched uranium for the next 15 years. The agreement also establishes, in President Barack Obama’s words, a “where necessary, when necessary” inspections mechanism that has the potential to verify whether Iran is meeting these and other commitments.

The net result is that the accord should lengthen the period it would take Iran to produce one or more nuclear weapons from several months to as much as a year, making it more likely that such an effort would be discovered in time. The prospect that the JCPOA could keep Iran without nuclear weapons for 15 years is its main attraction. Sanctions alone could not have accomplished this, and using military force would have entailed considerable risk with uncertain results.

On the other hand (there always is another hand in diplomacy), the agreement permits Iran to keep far more nuclear-related capacity than it would need if it were interested only in civil research and in demonstrating a symbolic ability to enrich uranium. The agreement also provides Iran with extensive relief from economic sanctions, which will fuel the regime’s ability to support dangerous proxies throughout the Middle East, back a sectarian government in Baghdad, and prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Moreover, the accord does not rule out all nuclear-related research and does not constrain work on missiles. Sales of ballistic missiles and missile parts to Iran are banned for no more than eight years. Sales of conventional arms to Iran are prohibited for no more than five years. There is also the danger that Iran will fail to comply with parts of the agreement and undertake prohibited work. Given Iran’s record, this has understandably been the focus of much concern and criticism regarding the pact. What matters is that non-compliance be met with renewed sanctions and, if needed, military force.

A bigger problem has received much less attention: the risk of what will happen if Iran does comply with the agreement. Even without violating the accord, Iran can position itself to break out of nuclear constraints when the agreement’s critical provisions expire. At that point, there will be little to hold it back except the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a voluntary agreement that does not include penalties for non-compliance.

It is important that the United States (ideally, joined by other countries) let Iran know that any action to put itself in a position to field nuclear weapons after 15 years, though not explicitly precluded by the accord, will not be tolerated. Harsh sanctions should be reintroduced at the first sign that Iran is preparing a post-JCPOA breakout; this, too, is not precluded by the accord.

Iran should likewise be informed that the US and its allies would undertake a preventive military strike if it appeared to be attempting to present the world with a fait accompli. The world erred in allowing North Korea to pass the nuclear-weapons threshold; it should not make the same mistake again.

In the meantime, a major effort must be launched to assuage the concerns of Iran’s neighbors, several of which will be tempted to hedge their bets against Iran’s potential breakout in 15 years by pursuing nuclear programs of their own. The Middle East is already nightmarish enough without the added risks posed by a number of would-be nuclear powers. Obama’s claim that the agreement has “stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region” is premature, at best.
It will also be essential to rebuild strategic trust between the US and Israel; indeed, this will need to be a high priority for Obama’s successor. And the US should push back as warranted against Iran’s foreign policy or treatment of its own people.

None of this rules out selective cooperation with Iran, be it in Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq, if interests overlap. But here, too, realism should prevail. The notion that the nuclear agreement will lead Iran to moderate its radicalism and rein in its strategic ambitions should not be anyone’s baseline scenario. In fact, the emergence of an ever more capable Iran, not a transformed one, is likely to be one of the main challenges confronting the Middle East, if not the world, in the coming years.

richard-haassRichard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. His most recent book is Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order.

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35 Responses for “Good and Bad of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Caution and Selective Cooperation Ahead”

  1. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    The world’s situation with Iran sits directly on our shoulders, because we opted to try banana republic style crap with a sovereign nation in the middle east. We violated a nation’s sovereignty and then spun it to make them the big bad guys when we got caught.

    The way I see it, you can own the situation and try to move past the transgression like an adult, or you can continue to demonize the victim and pretend you are the nice guy like a child. This is moving forward like adults.

  2. My only consolation today after the amazing intentional destructive actions of our government is the fact that God is bigger then the government. This is not to say we need not actively work to better our country, but today we are weaker, less respected and on the verge of the end times as a result of the actions of our president.

    The people who elected him are responsible for their soon to be self destruction. I pray for them.

    “While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.” Samuel Adams

    • NortonSmitty says:

      So Mike, I can’t tell from your post. Areyou saying your sad the world is coming to an end or happy you’re finally going to get a chance to have a beer with Jesus?

      • I’m saying it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I hope you are a praying person. If Jesus is returning he will have a lot of forgiving to do.

        Personally I am not about to surrender any of my liberties.

        Mark 13:6-8

        “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. “For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.…

  3. m&m says:

    I do not trust Obama or Iran. I smell a rat here.

  4. John H. Yankovich says:

    The Iran Nuke Deal smacks of the same 1930’s appeasement policy of Baldwin/Chamberlain that led to WWII. To say this will stop nuclear proliferation is horribly naive! The sanctions were working and shud have been increased. Our President is behaving more like the Manchurian Candidate than the president of the U.S.

  5. Dave says:

    What I don’t like about this whole mess, two days ago, the citizens in the streets in Iran were calling for death to Americans and Israel, but what does the USA ( Obama ) do, give these people the keys to pretty much do what they want. Stipulations like ” 30 days call us and tell us your coming over to inspect our nuclear program’, that’s BS. Iran is a sponsor of terrorism and now we are going to let them do what they do best.

  6. Knightwatch says:

    The right-wing nonsense has begun. Within hours, that’s hours, of an announced Iran deal, the right wing declares it a disaster. This is with no knowledge of the details. These ignorant ‘know-nothings’ immediately condemn anything this president accomplishes without doing any research and without the intellectual curiosity to learn the facts. Just no. I don’t know why I’m saying no, but hell no.

    The president is empowered by the Constitution to negotiate foreign agreements, and even if this do nothing republican congress tries to impede him, as they always do, there are things he can legally do to implement a good part of the agreement. And, working within the construct of the UN, he can work with other enlightened (no Republicans!) nations to counter republican obstructionism.

    Screw you Republicans, you lost again to the best president we’ve had since FDR.

  7. Jim R says:

    Nobody bothers to ask why if Iran had a nuclear weapon they would use it and ensure the total destruction of their country. Either no country should have nuclear weapons or everybody should have one.

  8. Because they say they will. They also are developing ICBM’s. Google it. “Death to America Death to Israel!” – Iran’s most holy leader.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      In all seriousness, both the CIA and Israeli Mossad have released reports that the Iranians have NO active Nuclear Weapons program despite what you hear on the controlled media! Honest. They only planned to enrich Uranium to 20% purity to develop a cold-fusion type reactor that will make safe electricity so cheap, safe and with no nuclear wast disposal problems that it threatens the status quo of Oil and Coal dominance that props up the US Dollar. That makes it much more dangerous to the people who control our world today. Here is proof from the Guardian. Google “Mossad Iran Nuclear” for more. If you are a Republican, you are afraid of the truth, so you won’t.

  9. Lancer says:

    This is a horrible deal. Iran has done, absolutely, nothing to deserve it. Iran is directly responsible for killing American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have also done everything within their power to destabilize the Middle East and Near East region and stir the fires of the, horribly mishandled, Arab Spring. They are an ultra violent, fundamentalist government hell bent on destruction. I’ve been there, done that and got the scars to prove it. The primary problem with the region is….IRAN.

    Knightwatch…you are no better than the repubs you criticize. I lived within 50 miles of Iran for 2 years. I passed their consulate in Herat, Afghanistan more times than I can count. Their government is atrocious. They are a massive state sponsor of terrorism. They have enough oil reserves to not need nuclear capability. Their reactors are of a Russian design. That design is military first, in principle.

    This without question…the worst foreign policy decision the United States has ever engaged in. This decision has put more lives in danger.

    No, Jim, that is a completely illogical conclusion. A government that used children to clear mine fields during the Iran/ Iraq war has shown itself to not be responsible enough to have nuclear weapons. There is a difference between governments. Your not understanding that speaks volumes.

    Both Israel and Saudi Arabia think this is stupid. If the left can’t understand how unbelievable THAT is…then, they are proof that “denial” isn’t just a river in Egypt.

    • Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

      Hrm yes I see, we tested chemical weapons on minorities in world war 2, deliberately gave diseases to guatemalans without their consent and then “treated” them to see if cures worked, violated the sovereignty of numerous countries to place dictators in power that would favor us, brought several nazi war criminals to the US to work for us in the sciences, and even forcibly sterilized people with disabilities under the guise of eugenics. Seems like you have a pot kettle black situation here, maybe you should bring up your concerns at the next RRR meeting where your opinions might carry weight.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Actually LAnce, the reactors were from the US. One from General Electric and one from Westinghouse. They were sold to Iran in 1976 by a couple of hucksters named Cheney and Rumsfeld. No shit:

      • NortonSmitty says:

        Here Lance, I know how hard it is for you True Believers to swallow the Red Pill, so I’ll make it easy:

        1976: Ford Gives Permission to Sell Nuclear Technology to Iran
        Context of ‘1976: Ford Gives Permission to Sell Nuclear Technology to Iran’

        President Gerald R. Ford signs a presidential directive giving the Iranian government the opportunity to purchase a US-built nuclear reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. Iran, with support from the US, wants to develop a massive nuclear energy industry that has complete “nuclear fuel cycle” capability so fissile materials can be supplied self-sustaining basis. US companies, chief among them Westinghouse, stands to make $6.4 billion from the sale of six to eight nuclear reactors and parts. The shah has argued that Iran needs a nuclear energy program in order to meet Iran’s growing energy demand. Iran is known to have massive oil and gas reserves, but the shah considers these finite reserves too valuable to be spent satisfying daily energy needs. In a 1975 strategy paper, the Ford administration supported this view saying that “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” Top officials in the Ford administration—including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, who is responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency—are strong supporters of Iran’s ambitions. Kissinger will tell the Washington Post 30 years later that the Ford administration was not concerned about the possibility of Iran using the facilities to produce nuclear weapons. “I don’t think the issue of proliferation came up,” he says. But Charles Naas, deputy US ambassador to Iran at this time, will tell the Post that nuclear experts had serious concerns about potential proliferation. Naas will explain that the administration was attracted to the nuclear deal “terms of commerce” and interested in maintaining good relations with the shah. [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]

        The Truth Shall Set You Free!

        Well, it’s not for everybody I guess

      • Lancer says:

        Great post. Of course, you didn’t put this in context…in 1976, Iran had not yet had a revolution lead by the Aayatollah (whom Carter let live). Also, these reactors are now defunct.

        • NortonSmitty says:

          Agreed on the timing and the impact of the revolution, and the Ayatollah should have been assassinated before he left Paris. But the reactors we supplied operated until they ran out of spare parts we would not sell them at least until the late ’80s and the GE lasted ’til 92 I believe. Long enough to provide enough fissionable material to start their Nuke Bomb program they abandoned in ’96. And leave enough material to enrich to 20% today for research into cold-fusion power plants, the real reason they must be stopped.

    • Jim R says:

      Lancer — Are those guys that used children to clear mine fields the same ones that tossed those babies out of their incubators?
      Different country, but the same old lies.

      Do you work for the CIA, or were you in Iran as a tourist?

  10. Katie Seamore says:

    All you idiots scared of the boogie man. Watch out! Obama is going to get you.

  11. Commom Sense says:

    No one knows the details of the deal but the Republicans are out in force criticizing it already. Never mind that Bush couldn’t get it done when he was in charge.

    Think about it, what is the alternative? War? This is at least a start and don’t forget the basic premise…we are telling another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do. Would we allow another country to dictate to us?
    P. S. Trump criticized the deal , on camera, while admitting he knew nothing about it. He said he knew people who knew about it. What a moron.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Today, at his press conference, Obama stated that it was likely that Iran would use their freed-up funds to fund future acts of terror, especially towards Israel, but (in his words), “it’s not a game-changer.” And this is a man who only a mere month ago wept crocodile tears in a synagogue, swearing up and down about how much he cared about the security of Israel and how he intends to make sure that the US has their back. What a hypocrite! The next time Israel has some vital intel to share that might protect our security, perhaps they won’t find it so urgent to communicate it, at least not to citizen Obama and his team. A pity, given how well the intelligence community in the US seems to be functioning these days. I mean, they were so right-on about ISIS being “junior league” and not too much of a concern.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Not so simple, or simplistic, of course. The full exchange on that question is worth transcribing:

      Q Thanks, Mr. President. I’ll be brief. The argument has been made that Iran now has a cash windfall, billions to spend. Your people seem confident they’re going to spend it at home. Why are you confident they’re not going to spend it on arming Hezbollah, arming Bashar al-Assad, et cetera?

      THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s a great question and I’m glad you brought it up. I think it is a mistake to characterize our belief that they will just spend it on daycare centers, and roads, and paying down debt. We think that they have to do some of that, because Rouhani was elected specifically on the premise of improving the economic situation inside of Iran. That economy has tanked since we imposed sanctions.

      So the notion that they’re just immediately going to turn over $100 billion to the IRGC or the Quds Force I think runs contrary to all the intelligence that we’ve seen and the commitments that the Iranian government has made.

      Do we think that with the sanctions coming down, that Iran will have some additional resources for its military and for some of the activities in the region that are a threat to us and a threat to our allies? I think that is a likelihood that they’ve got some additional resources. Do I think it’s a game-changer for them? No.

      They are currently supporting Hezbollah, and there is a ceiling — a pace at which they could support Hezbollah even more, particularly in the chaos that’s taking place in Syria. So can they potentially try to get more assistance there? Yes. Should we put more resources into blocking them from getting that assistance to Hezbollah? Yes. Is the incremental additional money that they’ve got to try to destabilize the region or send to their proxies, is that more important than preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? No. So I think — again, this is a matter of us making a determination of what is our priority.

      The other problem with the argument that folks have been making about, oh, this is a windfall and suddenly Iran is flushed with cash, and they’re going to take over the world. And I say that not tongue-in-cheek, because if you look at some of the statements by some of our critics, you would think that Iran is, in fact, going to take over the world as a consequence of this deal — which I think would be news to the Iranians.

      That argument is also premised on the notion that if there is no deal, if Congress votes down this deal, that we’re able to keep sanctions in place with the same vigor and effectiveness as we have right now. And that, I can promise you, is not true. That is absolutely not true. I want to repeat: We’re not writing Iran a check. This is Iran’s money that we were able to block from them having access to. That required the cooperation of countries all around the world, many of whom really want to purchase oil from Iran. The imposition of sanctions — their cooperation with us — has cost them billions of dollars, made it harder for them. They’ve been willing to do that because they’ve believed we were sincere about trying to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, and they considered that a priority — a high enough priority that they were willing to cooperate with us on sanctions.

      If they saw us walking away, or more specifically, if they saw the U.S. Congress effectively vetoing the judgment of 99 percent of the world community that this is a deal that resolves the Iranian weapons program — nuclear weapons program in an equitable way, the sanctions system unravels. And so we could still maintain some of our unilateral sanctions, but it would be far less effective — as it was before we were able to put together these multilateral sanctions.

      So maybe they don’t get $100 billion; maybe they get $60 billion or $70 billion instead. The price for that that we’ve paid is that now Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. We have no inspectors on the ground. We don’t know what’s going on. They’re still getting some cash windfall. We’ve lost credibility in the eyes of the world. We will have effectively united Iran and divided ourselves from our allies. A terrible position to be in.

      I’m just going to look — I made some notes about any of the arguments — the other arguments that I’ve heard here.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Oh yea, just like they shared the info on the 9/11 attack.

  13. NortonSmitty says:

    FlaglerLive, don’t you think you could have found a better source to make this point tha the President of The Council on Foreign Relations? The original New World Order proponents?

  14. NortonSmitty says:

    Hey Lancer! Read your own articles. These are reactors Russia has planned to deliver, but couldn’t because of the Embargo. Read the links I gave you. Our reactors were delivered and have been operational since the ’70s. Not only that, but you talk about Militarized Nuke Power, you have to be talking about Breeder reactors. In the course of their normal operation, they produce hi-grade enriched uranium that is easily converted into Plutonium for Hydrogen Thermo-nuclear bombs. The Russian reactors they were going to deliver do not have this capability. Maybe you should dig a little deeper before hanging your hat on NeoCon propaganda.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I think that Obama is understandably wary of putting American troops in harm’s way to fight against Iran and its terror proxies all over the ME. Obama would prefer Israel to do it for us. Which is why he put an even bigger redder bulls-eye on their back. And why he is willing to “make it all up to Israel” by giving them a “more generous” military package on the heels of this deal: “Here, we put in you in crossfires, here’s few bucks to shore up your iron dome system and some more weapons to fight with…because we know that this deal will surely promote peace in the world and especially that part of it that has you in its hostile sights.” But what Obama has also managed to do is prove to every Jewish voter in America how untrustworthy a Democratic president can be. All for the sake of his own “legacy” and the naive and unreal expectations of his Anti-Zionist, openly Netanyahu-hating Middle East (supposedly cracker-jack) team–who were so wrong about the ISIS threat in their eagerness to be Islamo-apologists that it wasn’t (and still isn’t) funny.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Well, Norton-Smitty, if what you (and Guardian) claims is true then the Iranian government would have no apparent reason to refuse access to IAEA to any of their facilities for any inspections at any time…unless you (or the Guardian) want to make a case for the UN being in on some nefarious underground plot against poor peaceful Iran.

  17. Anonymous says:

    …Like I said, let’s wait and see if the Iranians start “objecting” or making it difficult for the inspectors to do their jobs. Although, I suspect that the first breaches that the Iranians will attempt will be in matters a bit smaller than nuclear. I hope.

  18. stan says:

    israel is left out of the picture with obama he wants to protect wicked iran
    and give them 154 billion dollars what a shame while a pastor who is
    in jail because he is a bible christian is locked up guess what obama
    did nothing to get him out his wife is pleading but the muslim in the
    whitehouse keeps avoiding the issue what a disgrace wgen we
    make treaties with wicked iran and despise israel america will
    be judged also isis is a jv team that is why they are out in full
    force in america today trying to kill us wakeup people the
    enemy is here.

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