By Thomas Graham, Jr. | (Informed Comment)
A possible agreement on the nuclear issue with Iran has been much in the news these days. The United States has been trying to restrain the Iranian nuclear program for more than 20 years with little to show for it until a so-called interim agreement between the Permanent Five members of the U.N. Security Council, the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany (collectively referred to as the P-5 + 1), and Iran was concluded in November 2013. This Agreement is entitled the Joint Plan of Action (JPA).
The JPA established strict temporary limits on Iran for example: no enrichment beyond five percent; half of the 20 percent fuel in the possession of Iran had to be fabricated into fuel for its medical isotope reactor and the rest blended down to 5%; the number of centrifuges operating—around 9,000—could not be increased; no further work at its two enrichment plants or on its plutonium producing reactor at Arak could be done and vastly increased inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had to be permitted. In exchange for all this Iran received some modest relief from sanctions.
The JPA is designed to be replaced by a final agreement. The negotiating period to reach this final agreement has been extended twice; these negotiations have lasted over a year and by the terms of the last extension an outline final agreement is to be reached by the end of this month (March 24, 2015); a completed agreement is to be signed by the end of June. In the meantime Iran has scrupulously kept all its commitments under the JPA according to the IAEA.
The JPA contains much of what the U.S. has been negotiating for. What remains to be added to the JPA restrictions is the final number of centrifuges Iran will be permitted during the period of restrictions. This may be a number around 6,500—and how many years the period of special restrictions will last. President Obama has said this must be a double digit number; ten is a number that has been mentioned. Lastly, the U.S. position is that the final agreement must be structured so that Iran will not be able to make a nuclear weapon in less than a year. This issue goes to how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed and how much five percent enriched uranium that it produces Iran will be able to keep in country.
The JPA specifically provides that at the completion of the final step—the term used in the JPA to describe the period of special restrictions, Iran will again be treated like any other nonnuclear weapon state party to the NPT. Under the NPT a party in good standing has an “inalienable right” to the peaceful use of nuclear energy which includes access to nuclear power reactors and uranium enrichment facilities. Without this provision there would have been no NPT as a large number of countries insisted on it. Without the NPT, likely nuclear weapons would have spread all over the world, gravely undermining U.S. security.
Some say that the United States should not sign the agreement that is emerging. That the U.S. should further isolate Iran with sanctions and insist on an agreement that completely eliminates all of Iran’s nuclear capacity—such as centrifuges and its power reactor, etc. And they say that the agreement should include Iran’s missiles as well. The Israeli Prime Minister has in addition said that Iran should agree to give up “supporting terrorism around the world” and to “stop its aggression against its neighbors” as well as stop threatening Israel as part of any agreement on its nuclear program. There does not appear to be any chance that Iran would ever accept any of these proposals.
But such advocates insist that the West can just keep ratcheting up the sanctions with Iran until Iran has to give in, but it is far from sure the sanctions regime will last forever. The negotiating partners of the U.S.: Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are seriously invested in this process. If the U.S. for whatever reason throws it over or sets recognizably impossible conditions one or more of them could decide to no longer implement the sanctions.
The Prime Minister of Israel says that the alternative to the emerging agreement is not war but rather a better argument that incorporates all of the above other conditions, but he presents no idea of how to get there. In reality the alternative to this Agreement is no agreement, with Iran increasingly free to expand its nuclear program. And former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said military action would not be a real option in that at most it would set Iran back in the range of two years—and that is assuming that the American people would support another war, a big one this time.
It is important that Iran not acquire nuclear weapons; it would break the NPT, the safeguard of world peace and security, by provoking other prominent states to acquire nuclear weapons. But the way to do this is not to seek highly impractical and unrealizable negotiating results while Iran moves out from the JPA and puts its expanding nuclear program back on track. Or to have no agreement with tougher and probably increasingly unenforceable sanctions while it builds it nuclear program even faster. Or least of all to attack Iran with military force and make certain that Iran will build the bomb. Rather it is supporting the agreement that appears likely to emerge from the intensive negotiating process over the last couple of years and verifying and enforcing that agreement.
Thomas Graham, Jr., among the world’s foremost experts in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, is also author of the just-published gripping thriller Sapphire: A Tale of the Cold War
Ambassador Thomas Graham, Jr. was President Clinton’s Special Representative for Arms Control, Non-Proliferation, and Disarmament, including U.S. participation in the 1995 Extension Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ambassador Graham was the General Counsel of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) from 1983 to 1994. From January 20, 1993 until November 22, 1993, he served as the Acting Director of ACDA, and from November 23, 1993 to August 29, 1994 as the Acting Deputy Director. Among other assignments, he has served as the Legal Advisor to the U.S. SALT II Delegation (1974-79), the Senior Arms Control Agency Representative to the U.S. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Delegation (1981-82), the Legal Advisor to the U.S. Nuclear and Space Arms Delegation (1985-88), the Senior Arms Control Agency Representative and Legal Advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Negotiation (1989-90) and the Legal Advisor to the U.S. START Delegation (1991) and START II Delegation (1992). He also served as the Legal Advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 1980. On numerous occasions Ambassador Graham has testified before Congressional Committees on arms control and related issues. He has taught courses at the University of Virginia School of Law, the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and the Georgetown University Law Center, has spoken widely on arms control issues around the country and abroad, and has chaired the ABA Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament.
“Sapphire is an epic of perhaps the most dangerous period of the Cold War. This was a time when the two superpower antagonists seeking the mastery of the world were challenging each other in important peripheral areas around the world, risking dangerous escalation to major war. At the same time, they were creating enormous arsenals of total destruction on hair-trigger alert in a situation where neither side had a good idea what the other was doing, therefore having to always “worst case” everything. It is extraordinary that the fatal mistake was not made somewhere along the line—and it nearly was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 at the end of this period—precipitating worldwide nuclear war. Into this maelstrom entered a young woman tasked by her employer, the Central Intelligence Agency, to try to find a way to provide more openness between the sides and reduce worst-case planning as well as to try to help prevent regional confrontations from damaging US interests and spinning into world crisis. She is naturally skilled and well educated in important foreign languages. She finds herself working in perilous undercover assignments in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Iran. Sapphire is her story set primarily during the years 1954 to 1961.
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