Contrary to Israeli PM, alternative to realistic Iran Nuclear Deal is *no* Deal

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


— which treats some of the countries he dealt with in the Cold War era.

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.

Available at


and Barnes and Noble


8 Responses

  1. Mr. Graham is very correct that the USA has ONLY three options:

    – Sign a UNSC compromise agreement, or

    – kill the talks and ignore Iran, or

    – kill the talks and go to war with Iran.

    Since both Russia and China have said publicly that there will be no further sanctions, killing the talks means the USA will have to choose to ignore Iran or attack Iran. Those will be the ONLY two options.

    As I have pointed out in detail in other postings, a US attack on Iran will FAIL and be extremely costly for the USA. Note that in my other postings, I was only discussing Iran and the USA. I conveniently ignored the fact that Russia and /or China may actively HELP Iran repulse any USA attack.

    Right now the US MSM has succeeded in raising the public desire to attack Iran without clearly showing the consequences. I suspect that the congress critters could pass a declaration of war on Iran today and the public would be OK with it, for a few weeks. But, as the consequences hit home, the US public would probably be back-peddling very quickly. It would not take the public very long these days to turn on congress.

    I wonder if congress critters realize the dangerous box they are putting themselves in?

    I suspect this is going to get real ugly before it gets better.

    • “I suspect that the congress critters could pass a declaration of war on Iran today and the public would be OK with it, for a few weeks.”

      I doubt it. The Iraq fiasco has not been forgotten. The American historical memory is short but not that short.

      • As Professor Cole has pointed out in other articles, the current polling data shows over 50% of Americans are willing to go to war with Iran.

        The problem with these polls is they are basically “feel good” polls which ask pretty meaningless, low detail questions and never get into the probable consequences of any action.

        This is similar to the polls that show “support” for Israel. After all, who would ever admit to not supporting that “wonderful country?” I suspect that if all the consequences of supporting Israel were ever included in the questions, the support for Israel would fall a lot.

        These major poll mistakes is why I said that the congress critters could pass a declaration of war and a majority of Americans would be thrilled for a short time. BUT when all the extremely terrible consequences started making American lives very miserable, Americans will turn on the congress critters seemingly overnight.

        Of course, by then the avalanche will be rolling downhill and even if the congress critters tried to stop the war, the US would still suffer major if not catastrophic damage.

        Once the war starts, Americans are so f***ed.

        • I researched the polls for various US military actions post WW2. Every single military action was opposed by public opinion or repudiated by the public (example: Vietnam) while the war was still in progress. The only exception, as I remember, was Bush 41’s kicking Iraq out of Kuwait. Surprisingly, Reagan’s support for the ‘contras’ had majority opposition from almost the beginning. It too some years for Americans to turn agains the Vietnam war, but only a couple for them to turn against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Americans need to address the question: has a ‘defense policy” of far-reaching wars made us safer and stronger in international leadership? If not, why?

    • “Fun Fact” to think about . . .

      Attacking Iran (population ~75M and technologically only slightly less than USA), would be similar to the USA attacking:

      – Germany – population ~81M and slightly more technologically advanced than Iran and like Iran does NOT have nukes, or . . .

      – France – population ~66M and slightly more technologically advanced than Iran and has nukes, or . . .

      -UK – population ~65M and slightly more technologically advanced than Iran and has nukes.

      BTW – the last time the USA attacked Germany, the USA had to draft millions of Americans and spent a lot of the USA wealth – it will be very similar with Iran.

      Does that provide a slightly different perspective?

      • And let’s not forget that it was the USSR rather than the English-speaking powers which bore the brunt of the war to destroy Nazi Germany. If Britain and/or the USSR had fallen, the only way the United States could have defeated the Nazis would have been by destroying them with WMDs.

  2. How can war with Iran be even considered? The reason some not many Iranians would okay war is because of the hardship the sanctions have put on the working class in Iran.

    One reason the corrupted republicans want war with Iran is that the billionaires that own the Military Industrial Complex, the Federal Reserve, a private corporation, the American news medias, US Congress, etc get richer during wars, legal and illegal.

    It time to vote out and bury the Republicans and like minded Democrats.

  3. Nobody,

    The hackneyed statement that warlords in the principled party want war, seek profits at the expense of our citizens and other cliches are so ridiculous that I feel it is a waste event to express the statement. To suggest that those sectors drive our principled party is…well, do you really believe that huge sectors of our economy loathe us? and would sacrifice us to the opened palm? So ridiculous. What a cliche! What an abused animal! How about all the clothiers who would make military uniforms and…body bags? and the food industry that would be motorized to serve the guys on the front lines? Please don’t spend your time looking for hackneyed ideas on militarists.

Comments are closed.