Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU staff

INU-On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an editorial jointly authored by three foreign policy experts: former CIA director Michael Hayden, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Senior Fellow Olli Heinonen, and Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh.

The article introduced new criticisms of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 by questioning one of the basic premises of the Western position. US officials have long been saying that they would only be satisfied with a deal that extends Iran’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon to a year or more. And more recently, the same officials have been insisting that the deal currently taking shape in advance of an end-of-month deadline for a framework agreement would do just that.

But Hayden, Henonen, and Takeyh argue that a one year breakout time may not be long enough, considering the amount of bureaucracy and verification that will likely be involved in taking action on any reports of Iran’s cheating on the deal. They suggest that regardless of whether those reports come from the International Atomic Energy Agency or the United States, the other party will want to check out the intelligence for itself, and each side will be slowed by its own policies and procedures.

The authors also point out that if new sanctions were to be imposed in order to put new pressure on the regime, these would take time to take effect.

“With stakes so high,” they conclude, “we need a national debate about the nature and parameters of any agreement.” Finally, the three experts bring their concerns to bear on one of the major debates that has been surrounding the issue especially in the past two weeks. They insist that the debate about the agreement must take place in the US Congress, contrary to the Obama administration’s policy of pursuing the agreement executive-to-executive and eschewing congressional approval.

The Washington Examiner called attention to this editorial on Monday and elaborated upon it, connecting the experts’ arguments to outstanding concerns about whether Iran has been in compliance with the interim agreement governing the negotiations.

Hayden, Heinonen, and Takeyh state that in the past Iran has used small-scale violations to make progress on its nuclear program without bringing down universal, international condemnation on itself. The Examiner notes that many believe it has done exactly this in the midst of the current negotiations, when it fed nuclear material into more advanced enrichment centrifuges, despite having agreed to freeze its program.

But the Obama administration has downplayed this incident, describing it as a “mistake” and raising additional fears in the minds of critics who believe that this points to the difficulty the world community may face in coming to agreement about Iranian violations, much less taking action.

The Examiner notes that this gives support to some Western figures’ hardline demands for extreme restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. It quotes Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as saying, “This just goes to show what many of us fear, and what the administration continues to ignore: There is no way to fully monitor and verify Iran's program, and that's why the only option must be a complete dismantling of its nuclear program.”

This has always been the official position of the state of Israel, as well, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently indicated that his government could begrudgingly accept a deal that leaves Iran with some enrichment capacity but is still much stronger than the deal currently taking shape.

A complete halt to Iranian enrichment is an unlikely outcome at present. But there are still doubts about whether the current negotiations will result in an actual agreement. Meanwhile the US Congress is closing ranks in its appeal for considerable oversight and a plan for expansion of sanctions if needed. And at the same time, some players on the international stage continue to maintain a more demanding position that the Obama administration, and they may be moving to close ranks with one another, as well.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that Israeli Foreign Minister Yuval Steinitz was scheduled to make a diplomatic trip to Paris in order to discuss the nuclear negotiations with the government of France, which is consistently described as the member of the P5+1 that is pushing hardest for significant concessions from Iran. 

 

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