Clapper’s report on the subject noted that whether or not Tehran actually comes to possess a nuclear bomb will be determined in large part by the political will of its leadership, as well as the ability of the US and its allies to monitor activities inside the Islamic Republic. Clapper told the Senate that although Iran is already capable of breaking out to a nuclear weapon, he believes that under current circumstances its efforts to enrich enough uranium to do so would be recognized by Western powers.
Whether or not this is true, many observers of the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 are under the impression that Iran’s status as a possible threshold nuclear state is not about to be altered by any deal that is reasonably within view at the present moment. Citing reports about the most recent proposal for resolving the year-old negotiations, Breitbart claims that the US now retains only about 20 percent of its original demands and expectations for a final agreement, whereas Iran is poised to get 80 percent of what it wants.
If this is the case, the question of whether Iran is prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon may hinge primarily upon whether the 20 percent of the talks that favor the Western side include resolutions to preserve or expand the inspection arrangements that elicit confidence in the international community’s ability to detect and prevent high levels of enrichment.
This point was emphasized on Wednesday in an interview by NewsMax with Greg Schulte, a former US representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency and current Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. Schulte provided the news outlet with his assessment of what a good deal between Iran and the P5+1 must entail. In addition to transparency about past nuclear work and a substantial reduction in Iran’s technical capability, Schulte believes that Iranian concession to intrusive international inspections is a necessary prerequisite for resolving the issue.
But Schulte went on to say that this point may be difficult to obtain, in the first place because the leaders of Iran are unlikely to relent on such a point of pride, and in the second place because pushing for this outcome would require a sort of unity that has not been on display between the Obama administration and the US Congress, or between the US and its diplomatic allies.
According to Schulte, “if it’s clear the international community is united, if it’s clear that we’re ready to walk away from these negotiations, and if it’s clear that we’re ready to put in place very strong sanctions, sustained for the long term,” then it might be possible to compel Tehran to allow the intrusive inspections that would create some international confidence that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons.
As it stands, the most prominent Iranian officials continue to deny that the pursuit of such weapons is part of their agenda. President Hassan Rouhani reiterated this point in a speech on Wednesday, according to Agence France-Presse. But his framing of the issue involved distinctly anti-Western rhetoric and boasts about Iran’s other technical accomplishments, thus highlighting some of the reasons why Western powers have little trust in Tehran’s assurances on the nuclear issue.
Rouhani claimed in his speech that Iran does not need a nuclear weapon and that its strength is secure in other ways. “We have a great, self-sacrificing, and unified nation,” he said by way of explanation, adding, “Despite pressure and sanctions, this nation sent a new satellite into space.” This latter claim seems to imply the same conclusion made by James Clapper in his report to the US Senate: that Iran has sufficient rocket and missile technology to reach Europe or the United States if its claims about non-pursuit of nuclear weapons prove false.