Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Iran Deal Is Passed, So Let's See What's In It!

I'm not convinced the deal we have struck with Iran halts their overall progress toward nuclear weapons.

This deal may just be a 6-month pause that allows Iran to set up a faster sprint to a nuclear weapons with all the components of their program that need to cross the line at the same time. Even though some of the limits negotiated are real, are they significant delays in this light? And the time Iran bought complements the time Syria's Assad bought, allowing Iran to continue to support Assad financially to defeat the rebels.

We have a fact sheet out on the Iran nuclear deal.

Let's see. We can start with the framing of the agreement. We're billing it as an interim agreement that buys time until a final agreement that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon can be negotiated.

This assumes that Iran also sees it as an interim agreement with the same objective. If not, we have what we have, don't we? Does Iran consider this an interim step only in the sense that it gives us time to accept Iranian positions on their nuclear position?

And we have reduced our goals. Now, actually having a nuclear weapon is the no-go stage for Iran rather than the capability of enriching uranium to make bombs. That alone is a victory for Iran.

How about the details?

Halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.

Dilute below 5% or convert to a form not suitable for further enrichment its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium before the end of the initial phase.

This keeps Iran from having the highly enriched stocks readily available. But with the technical connections re-established, Iran could restart. Another source notes that the enrichment limit extends the time Iran would need to have enough bomb material for a nuclear bomb from "at least 1-1.6 months to at least 1.9-2.2 months."

That source says this minor adjustment is significant, but it assumes we would do something decisive if Iran starts racing through that slightly increased time period to build a bomb. I assume we would not. Maybe Israel would, but that's another issue.

Not install additional centrifuges of any type.

Not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.

Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.

Not construct additional enrichment facilities.

This leaves existing centrifuges intact.

And what does "install" mean? If Iran sets them up, with only a final connection being the "installation" phase, Iran could do a good deal in the "interim" period.

Also, Iran can continue to enrich to low levels with the centrifuges not defined as "next-generation."

Does broken centrifuge replacement allow Iran to replace older broken models with newer models? If so, Iran could increase capacity within the limits.

Does Iran even need an additional enrichment facility? This seems like a pointless Iranian concession since the 6-month "interim" period is surely too short of a time period for Iran to build a new facility. I assume the agreement doesn't prevent Iran from digging a large deep bunker for some vague non-nuclear purpose in this time.

Not increase its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium, so that the amount is not greater at the end of the six months than it is at the beginning, and any newly enriched 3.5% enriched uranium is converted into oxide.

Could Iran move some of this level of uranium to the 5% limit? If so, the combined 3.5%-5% enriched uranium isn't really limited.

Not commission the Arak reactor.

Not fuel the Arak reactor.

Halt the production of fuel for the Arak reactor.

No additional testing of fuel for the Arak reactor.

Not install any additional reactor components at Arak.

Not transfer fuel and heavy water to the reactor site.

Not construct a facility capable of reprocessing. Without reprocessing, Iran cannot separate plutonium from spent fuel.

So the plutonium track is in theory frozen in place. I have no doubt that Iran can do things not forbidden that would help restart this route to a nuclear bomb at a quicker pace.

Is the plutonium track even that important to Iran? That isn't the route North Korea used to go nuclear even though North Korea has that alternate track, as well.

Provide daily access by IAEA inspectors at Natanz and Fordow. This daily access will permit inspectors to review surveillance camera footage to ensure comprehensive monitoring. This access will provide even greater transparency into enrichment at these sites and shorten detection time for any non-compliance.

Provide IAEA access to centrifuge assembly facilities.

Provide IAEA access to centrifuge rotor component production and storage facilities.

Provide IAEA access to uranium mines and mills.

Provide long-sought design information for the Arak reactor. This will provide critical insight into the reactor that has not previously been available.

Provide more frequent inspector access to the Arak reactor.

Provide certain key data and information called for in the Additional Protocol to Iran’s IAEA Safeguards Agreement and Modified Code 3.1.

Better inspections are good. But in regard to the Arak reactor, is Iran simply giving the appearance of a concession for a non-critical facility?

And does Iran simply accept the inspections as a necessary evil that can be endured during the interim period without seriously harming their nuclear plans in order to reap our concessions?

Is the joint commission Iran and the great powers (Germany and permanent UN Security Council members--including Russia and China, remember--will set up to oversee this just a means to limit the scope of inspections and impede them if they get too effective? Why put such a body between Iran and the IAEA, if that isn't its purpose?

Does the joint commission exist beyond the 6-month interim period? Or is this now a standing body that can run interference for Iran because it has Russia, China, and Iran on the commission?

Then we get to what Iran gets--not including the precious 6 months of time they've bought during which even Israel wouldn't dare attack Iran:

Not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months, if Iran abides by its commitments under this deal, to the extent permissible within their political systems.

Suspend certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran approximately $1.5 billion in revenue.

License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines.

Allow purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels – levels that are 60% less than two years ago. $4.2 billion from these sales will be allowed to be transferred in installments if, and as, Iran fulfills its commitments.

Allow $400 million in governmental tuition assistance to be transferred from restricted Iranian funds directly to recognized educational institutions in third countries to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students.

Facilitate humanitarian transactions that are already allowed by U.S. law. Humanitarian transactions have been explicitly exempted from sanctions by Congress so this channel will not provide Iran access to any new source of funds. Humanitarian transactions are those related to Iran’s purchase of food, agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices; we would also facilitate transactions for medical expenses incurred abroad. We will establish this channel for the benefit of the Iranian people.

On the bright side, in theory Congress could impose additional sanctions and override a presidential veto. In practice there is Senator Harry Reid, who obviously has no problem with a "nuclear option" if it supports President Obama.

I assume lifting some sanctions on gold and precious metals will help Iran evade banking restrictions. So Iran could barter oil for gold and whatnot quietly and then gain additional revenue from those precious metals.

Making Iran's aircraft safer helps Iran's air bridge to Assad and allows Iran to more safely bring in small but valuable components or materials from places like North Korea or Venezuela.

I'm not sure what the oil-level provision means. If export levels are to be allowed to remain as is, how does Iran get over $4 billion? And who determines if Iran is fulfilling requirements? And how do we keep Iran from using some legal exports to leverage resources for Iran's nuclear program and foreign policy the way Saddam Hussein used legal "oil for food" trade to add to his slush fund?

I don't know what to make of the tuition piece. But if that frees up other Iranian resources that otherwise would have supported those students, that's a chunk of change for Iran. And obviously, any time there is talk of Iranian "students" I get nervous given the role of "students" as the shock troops of their takeover of our embassy in Iran at the start of the Iranian revolution during the Carter administration.

Making it easier for Iran to get allowable humanitarian aid is still a means for Iran to gain more money or assets that otherwise the Iranians would have to pay for.

I remain worried that the limits Iran has accepted are restrictions they don't consider vital to continue at this moment. Remember, Iran needs the ability to produce nuclear warheads and missiles to put them on at the same time. I see nothing that restricts Iran's missile programs or warhead work.

And Iran has its own 6-month shield to go along with Syria's 6-month shield that the chemical weapons deal gave Assad to pound down the rebellion. Now Iran has more financial resources to prop up Assad and keep their own economy going. Syria has already "welcomed" the agreement.

There is also a large section explaining that the financial concessions to Iran aren't really that big of a deal. Which begs the question of why Iran would accept a deal that the administration says is so crippling to Iran's nuclear program. Clearly, Iran feels the deal is a good deal for them even if the administration can't conceive of why they think this is so.

After all, I fear we think this is a good deal because it is a deal that is not glaringly bad in the light of morning and not because of what is in the deal. It all depends on your objectives, no?

So there you go.

Pressure has been lifted from Iran, allowing them to continue their hostile foreign policy and allowing them to continue whatever is not banned.

Will we really be able to get Iran to dismantle their nuclear programs at the far weaker level of not reaching an actual bomb rather than the previous level of not having the ability to produce the uranium for bombs?

If not, will we really be willing to ratchet up the sanctions again? Especially given the amazing statement in this fact sheet that we had to cut a deal because sanctions would have frayed if we didn't?

Furthermore, without this phased approach, the international sanctions coalition would begin to fray because Iran would make the case to the world that it was serious about a diplomatic solution and we were not. We would be unable to bring partners along to do the crucial work of enforcing our sanctions. With this first step, we stop and begin to roll back Iran's program and give Iran a sharp choice: fulfill its commitments and negotiate in good faith to a final deal, or the entire international community will respond with even more isolation and pressure.

How does that inspire confidence that Iran is giving in to our pressure?

If there is no deal in 6 months, what gives the administration any confidence that we could make the case that Iran is still pursuing nuclear weapons better than Iran can make the case that they tried to build confidence but those darned unreasonable Americans just wouldn't take "yes" for an answer?

And if we restart sanctions in 6 months if Iran doesn't move toward a final deal, we'll have to spend many months just to get Iran back to the financial point they are at right now. So Iran has at least bought a year, rather than 6 months. And probably more, since they'll also have had 6 months to figure out how to get around the temporarily suspended sanctions. Iran has operated under various sanctions for virtually the entire life of the Islamic Republic, remember. They're fairly adept at finding loopholes and people willing to risk discovery for the profit potential.

Finally, just having 6 months to a year or more of more time provides Iran with a better chance to achieve a break-out nuclear capability that bridges that period of vulnerability between the time we recognize they have the ability to produce nuclear weapons and the actual possession of nuclear missiles that could deter an attack, as I've long feared:

The problem from Iran's point of view is that they can't know if crossing one of these lines could trigger an American or Israeli preemptive strike out of fear that further delay in attacking would be too late to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And if I was an Iranian nutball, I wouldn't assume the Americans and Israelis couldn't knock out my infrastructure.

Were I an Iranian nutball, under those circumstances, I'd want at least a few atomic warhead on hand before I announce capabilities to produce atomic weapons-grade material. Which would mean I'd have had to have bought some from either North Korea or Pakistan--or possibly even from some broke custodian of Russia's arsenal.

If Iran can announce both the ability to make nuclear bomb material and the possession of actual nuclear weapons--perhaps by detonating one in a test on their own territory--Tehran would quite possibly deter an attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

We're not dealing with idiots. If the Iranian mullahs believe there are red lines that trigger Israeli or American action, why wouldn't they take counter-actions rather than just blindly cross those lines and provide a pretext for military action against them?

Have a super sparkly day. I suspect that Iran's mullahs will have a truly great Thanksgiving as they gorge on the turkey we just delivered.