Ideally the outcome of an equal negotiation should be a victory for both sides. The agreement announced Tuesday between six nations and Iran, however, has only one clear winner — Iran.
Tehran gets an immediate $150 billion shot in the arm from the release of frozen assets, relief from trade embargoes and financial sanctions, and a gradual lifting of all other forms of international pressure, including the removal of bans on the purchase of arms and ballistic missile technology.
It also is promised that in 15 years it can produce any nuclear technology it desires, and the restrictions on that will begin to be lifted in 10 years.
Implicitly this means that the world powers that agreed to the deal (the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia) have agreed to let Iran become a nuclear weapons state. And it could become one sooner than expected.
Iran is allowed to keep nuclear technology large enough to produce a nuclear weapon from scratch in 12 months. But other clauses in the deal could sharply reduce the time available to other nations to respond effectively to an attempted breakout to less than half a year.
In exchange, the world powers, led by the U.S., got Iran’s promise that its nuclear program will be “exclusively peaceful,” and very little more. Given Tehran’s repeated denunciation of the U.S. as an enemy and its repeated pledge to eradicate Israel, that promise should be treated with profound skepticism.
Any hope that the agreement will lead to a lessening of Mideast tensions should be balanced against the fact that Iran is actively supporting Shia interests in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere against American allies ranging from Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Israel. Sudden access to a huge infusion of assets will make it possible for Iran to increase the tempo of its Mideast military operations.
The White House said Tuesday that the agreement “will prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon” and “block all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.” And President Obama said the agreement is “built on verification.”
But the International Atomic Energy Commission, which will verify the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, must let Iran know ahead of time where it wants to send inspectors. This is far from the “any time, any place” rule that unfettered verification requires. And even this degree of access will depend on a vote by Iran’s hawkish parliament to allow it.
Still, it is hard to see why Iran would want to openly cheat any time soon. It need only wait a few years, and the door to Iranian nuclear weapons will be wide open.
That being the case, it is highly disturbing that the agreement unnecessarily lifts the ban on Iran’s legal acquisition of advanced missile technology in eight years. Just last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.”
Instead of reducing tensions in the Middle East, the new “approved” timeline to an Iranian nuclear force is more likely to lead to increased hostilities and an arms race in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement a “stunning historic mistake,” explaining, “Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons.” Iran will also, he said, gain access to funds that will fuel its support of terrorism in the Mideast and its “efforts to destroy Israel.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the deal would only embolden Iran in the Mideast and lead to a regional arms race.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who earlier set forth a framework for evaluating a good agreement, called it “terrible.”
The agreement goes to Congress next week for a 60-day review period that ends in mid-September, when it has the option to insist that congressionally approved sanctions on Iran will remain in place.
But it must come up with two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to override the promised presidential veto.
That sounds like a long shot.
So does expecting Iran to keep its word not to develop a nuclear arsenal.