In a must-read report from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) task force on Iran, co-chaired by former ambassador Eric Edelman and former Obama adviser Dennis Ross, the authors warn about entering into one of the suggested arrangements leaked from the Iran P5+1 talks. They write:
As this Task Force laid out in a September paper, one such possibility would be to limit the total output of Iran’s enrichment facilities (as measured in Separative Work Units, or SWU). Since then, U.S. officials reportedly have considered another route, whereby Iran would disconnect the links between some or all of its thousands of installed centrifuges. . . [A]s with the SWU approach, Iran would maintain a latent nuclear weapons capability, and could even expand and upgrade its existing nuclear infrastructure without violating a final deal.
The authors proceed to explain how hard it would be to monitor compliance if we don’t also deal with “dismantlement of key elements of [Iran’s] existing enrichment infrastructure — specifically centrifuges — and verifiable limits on centrifuge output, number and types of operating and installed centrifuges, research and development (R&D) activities, and enrichment levels and facilities, among others. Without these additional restrictions, Iran could expand its latent enrichment capability while adhering to a final deal.”
But the authors’ broader conclusion is applicable not only to a SWU-based deal or a deal unlinking centrifuges, but also to any sort of deal that doesn’t do what we have reiterated over two presidencies. In short, we cannot “contradict statements by Administration officials since the [Joint Plan of Action] was agreed that Iran must dismantle significant amounts of its nuclear infrastructure, and that it must close its Fordow enrichment facility.” If we did so, we would virtually guarantee that Iran “would never agree to dismantle a single centrifuge or to close Fordow.” That, in turn, makes enforcement of any alternative deal a mirage:
This would limit U.S. credibility when it comes to enforcing adherence to a comprehensive agreement. Promises to punish violations – whether by Iran, other countries or companies eager for the lifting of sanctions – would likely gain less traction if the United States was attempting to uphold a deal whose terms it had previously said were unacceptable. Furthermore, were Iran ever to decide to reconnect the tubes, the potential difficulties for the United States and its diplomatic partners of detecting such activities, discerning whether they constitute a clear violation and agreeing to an appropriate punishment before Iran had completed the process, could all compound the challenges stemming from limited credibility at the outset of the final deal.
The administration doesn’t like the choice, but it really is the only one it must face at this juncture: Will the administration stick to its position and pressure Iran to accept it by additional sanctions or threat of military force, or will it capitulate? I fear I know the answer, but I hope I am wrong.