The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Iran deal makes clear it pays to enrich

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Reaction to the announced interim deal between the “P5+1” and Iran that allows Iran to continue enrichment up to 5 percent, does not require dismantling — let alone destruction — of centrifuges, leaves all fissile material in Iran and allows it to continue violation of multiple U.N. resolutions bodes ill for West. We are in essence paying Iran $5 billion to $10 billion, which it can use to continue enriching and of course sponsoring terrorists. The communist adage that capitalists would sell them the rope to hang the capitalist is turned on its head; we are now paying our enemies to manufacture the rope.

Defenders of the administration will point to provisions to reduce enriched uranium nearing 20 percent, cease work at the illegal plutonium enrichment facility at Arak and install no additional centrifuges other than to replace “broken” ones, as well as new inspections as breakthroughs. There are five problems.

First, this assumes the ability to monitor all activities (What of other hidden facilities? What if replaced centrifuges aren’t really “damaged”?). Iran’s program is massive; we can only inspect what is on the list. Second, even Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that the deal extends breakout time for Iran by a mere two months — assuming complete compliance. Third, billions of dollars in sanctions relief is not “reversible” — they keep the cash, the document says no further sanctions will be passed in the next six months “to the extent permissible within their political systems” and the president has already intensified his opposition to sanctions (with Kerry laying down a veto threat). Four, we are signaling, in violation of U.N. resolutions, our own policy and understanding with Israel that Iran’s retention of a nuclear enrichment program is acceptable. Finally, President Obama, in effect, has ruled out the military option. In his speech last night he said, “I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict.” Gone is any mention of military action. (“This would provide Iran with a dignified path to forge a new beginning with the wider world based on mutual respect,” Obama said. “If, on the other hand, Iran refuses, it
will face growing pressure and isolation.”)

The loopholes and fallacies are huge and obvious. Iran must only dismantle connections to enrich over 5 percent (“dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.”), allowing these to be plugged right back in after six months.  Arak was not set to go online until next year anyway so promises not to move it online are meaningless. And most of all, the time and effort it takes to enrich from 5 to 20 percent is slight compared to enrichment up to 5 percent which is unabated.

That the deal could have been worse is of little consolation. What matters is what it fails to do and that it points the way toward consent to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Unsurprisingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the deal, calling it a “historic mistake.”

Opposition in the United States was fast and harsh. Josh Block, a former Clinton administration official and spokesman at AIPAC, who now heads a Mideast focused educational organization called TIP (The Israel Project), based in Washington D.C., via e-mail told me, “Congress has consistently and uniformly rejected allowing Iran to possess the entire nuclear fuel cycle and continue enriching uranium. [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani says if Iran can enrich to 3.5%, it is able to make nuclear weapons. Letting Iran enrich and maintain the fuel cycle is an intolerable risk that the American people, our allies, and those on Capitol Hill who write our sanctions laws, cannot not abide.”

Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explained via e-mail, “While we have yet to see the details, there is every reason for concern, every reason to believe this agreement will be as useful as the agreements that failed to stop the North Koreans from getting nukes. The expectation, based on what we know so far, is that the US is about to make significant and irreversible concessions — in return for insignificant and reversible concession.” He added, “In other words, we’re about ease the economic pressure on Iran’s rulers. Iran will continue to progress toward nuclear breakout capability. Iran’s rulers have reason to celebrate tonight. They are a big step closer to being nuclear-armed and to achieving their ambitions in the Middle East and well beyond.”

Those lawmakers who spoke out last night were highly skeptical. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (Calif.) announced:

I have serious concerns that this agreement does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and our allies.  Instead of rolling back Iran’s program, Tehran would be able to keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability.  Yet we are the ones doing the dismantling – relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure built up over years.  This sanctions relief is more lifeline than ‘modest.’  Secretary Kerry should soon come before the Foreign Affairs Committee to address the many concerns with this agreement.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a strong denunciation of the deal. (“This agreement will not ‘freeze’ Iran’s nuclear program and won’t require the regime to suspend all enrichment as required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions. By allowing the Iranian regime to retain a sizable nuclear infrastructure, this agreement makes a nuclear Iran more likely. There is now an even more urgent need for Congress to increase sanctions until Iran completely abandons its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.”) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) cut to the chase in his statement, “While I await specific details of the interim agreement, I remain concerned that this deal does not adequately halt Iran’s enrichment capabilities. Numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions have called for the full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities, so it is troubling that this agreement still permits the Iranians to continue enriching.”

The immediate questions are three-fold. First, does the actual agreement, yet to be released, even measure up to the administration’s representations? Second, while the summary released says new sanctions won’t be passed to the extent permitted by our political system, Congress is not bound by this and is constitutionally free to pass additional sanctions that go into effect in six months unless Iran complies fully with the U.N. resolutions. Will pro-sanctions Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.,) maintain their commitment to vote for tightening sanctions after the Thanksgiving recess  ?

The conservative Emergency Committee for Israel release a statement declaring that the deal, “fails to uphold even the minimum demand of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions that Iran must stop enriching uranium. For the next six months, the centrifuges will not be dismantled and will continue to spin, uranium will be enriched, the 20 percent enriched uranium will stay in Iran, and a reactor designed to produce bomb-ready plutonium will remain just months away from completion. . . . Congress should make clear that just because the Obama administration seems to have taken all our options off the table, our allies need not follow us down this futile path of accommodating the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions. In particular, Congress should make clear the United States will support Israel if Israel decides she must act to prevent a regime dedicated to her destruction from acquiring the means to do so.”