Let’s start with the lack of agreement. Iran is already accusing the administration of lying for promulgating a fact sheet Iran says does not comport with the deal. This is a reminder that the “fact sheet” is a unilateral document, the best-case scenario for the administration — which apparently is not good enough for the Iranians. The Times of Israel lists six major areas of non-agreement:
1. Sanctions: . . .[The] US has made clear that economic sanctions will be lifted in phases, whereas the Iranian fact sheet provides for the immediate lifting of all sanctions as soon as a final agreement is signed, which is set for June 30.(In fact, the US parameters state that sanctions will be suspended only after Iran has fulfilled all its obligations: “US and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps.” By contrast, the Iranian fact sheet states: “all of the sanctions will be immediately removed after reaching a comprehensive agreement.”)2. Enrichment: The American parameters provide for restrictions on enrichment for 15 years, while the Iranian fact sheet speaks of 10 years.3. Development of advanced centrifuges at Fordo: The US says the framework rules out such development. . . while the Iranians say they are free to continue this work.4. Inspections: The US says that Iran has agreed to surprise inspections, while the Iranians say that such consent is only temporary. . .5. Stockpile of already enriched uranium: Contrary to the US account, Iran is making clear that its stockpile of already enriched uranium — “enough for seven bombs” if sufficiently enriched, . . . will not be shipped out of the country, although it may be converted.6. PMD: The issue of the Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian program, central to the effort to thwart Iran, has not been resolved.
You’ll notice this amounts to disagreement on virtually every major issue that would be necessary to make good on the president’s promise of making sure Iran never gets a bomb. Even the New York Times concedes, “A careful review shows that there is considerable overlap between the two accounts, but also some noteworthy differences — which have raised the question of whether the two sides are entirely on the same page, especially on the question of how quickly sanctions are to be removed. The American and Iranian statements also do not clarify some critical issues, such as precisely what sort of research Iran will be allowed to undertake on advanced centrifuges during the first 10 years of the accord. ‘This is just a work in progress, and those differences in fact sheets indicate the challenges ahead,’ said Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.” (Peter Feaver has a similar analysis.)
Then there is the substance, the best-case scenario for what the deal might look like. (This requires us to believe John Kerry would hold on to the positions in the “fact sheet,” as weak as they are, and not continue conceding point after point as he has done for more than a year.)
Several fatal flaws include the inspection regime and dispute resolution, which provide a regime that has always cheated on agreements more than enough room to systematically evade whatever restriction would remain.
A White House less desperate to make a deal would consider how easily nuclear agreements with bad actors are circumvented. Charles Duelfer has written a trenchant account in Politico of how Saddam Hussein tied the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear inspectors into knots in the 1990s, rendering them incapable of ascertaining the truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
The inspections regime in Iran envisioned by the Obama administration will not even come close to the intrusiveness of the failed inspections in Iraq. Worse, once sanctions are lifted and billions of dollars of Iranian trade starts to flow again to European and Asian companies, the United States likely will be dealing with a United Nations even more politically divided, and more incapable of action, than in the days of Saddam and the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.
In an effort to circumvent possible congressional disapproval of his deal-making, Mr. Obama is voluntarily surrendering control of the implementation and verification of any agreement to the Security Council, where American leadership and influence are weak. The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, a decent little outfit of underpaid and underfunded bureaucrats and inspectors, can do good work when the Security Council is unified. The IAEA’s utility plummets when the council is divided.
Couple this with the absence of snap inspections and revelation of PMD’s (necessary to determine where inspectors should inspect) and you have a system designed for Iran to exploit. The president says we would know if Iran cheated, but we know its past cheating evaded detection and that we have a perfect record of failure in anticipating when other regimes were able to breakout.
Moreover, even if we “know” about cheating, summoning the will to recognize it as such (when we’ve already dismissed cheating during the term of the Joint Plan of Action as the errors of a low-level employee) and then to garner support to re-impose sanctions suppose a parallel universe in which every player (Iran, the United States, Russia, the United Nations, etc.) behaves differently than it ever has. At best you’d have Iran with greater breakout potential or with a bomb and then some sanctions reimposed after years of economic recovery. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on ABC’s “This Week”: “It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. It lifts the sanctions on them fairly quickly and enables them to get billions of dollars into their coffers. They’re not going to use it for schools or hospitals or roads, Martha, they’re going to use it to pump up their terror machine worldwide and their military machine that is busy conquering the Middle East now. And third, it’s a temporary deal. That is, whatever restrictions are placed on Iran’s nuclear program, they’re removed after a few years and Iran will be free to have a vast arsenal with which to, uh, ultimately produce many nuclear bombs.” The president’s most reliable spinners in the media must concede, as Jeffrey Goldberg does, that “everything remains in place. There will be inspectors apparently watching most of these things, so we’ll know in most cases if something is going awry. But– but the infrastructure remains.” That was never the intention of the administration or of members of Congress going into the talks, so what has changed other than the president’s desperation for a deal?
No,w a deal of the type reflected in the “fact sheet” might be acceptable if one were dealing with Costa Rica or some other transparent state, or if the infrastructure had been dismantled, centrifuges disabled, fissile material shipped out of the country, Arak destroyed and Fordow closed. But we are doing none of this, even in the best-case scenario envisioned by the fact sheet. It is all there, within Iran’s control — the plutonium bomb-making factory (that, in essence, is what Arak is), Fordow, thousands of centrifuges, a green light for research on more advanced centrifuges, enriched material easily boosted back to top levels sufficient for bomb-making and a missile program entirely unaffected by the deal. Iran keeps everything it needs, restricted from using it only by a grossly insufficient inspection system and a resolution mechanism designed for gridlock. This is the best deal we could get?
Well, it’s the best deal Obama could get. Peter Feaver observes, “Obama was slow to start the pressure track in his first term, and he violated basic principles of Diplomacy 101 in the last several rounds. As a result, he squandered U.S. leverage and convinced everyone that he needed a deal, any deal, more than the Iranians did. We will never know for sure what tougher negotiations might have yielded; we only know for sure Obama did not try them.”
Five things must be undertaken to prevent the terrible “fact sheet” from becoming a horrible deal. First, Congress must pass the Corker-Graham bill to ensure any final deal must pass muster with Congress. Second, Congress must demand transparency from the administration, including a full accounting of the bargaining history and explanation for each concession granted. Third, there must be a diligent effort from lawmakers, interested groups and Iran experts to explain to the American people the fatal flaws in this agreement. Fourth, opponents should make clear that the president’s rhetoric — this deal or war — is entirely specious. Reimposing and heightening sanctions, returning to the original goals of the bargaining and making a credible military threat must be tried. But Obama will never do that, you say? Exactly, which is why we need, fifth, a president who understands all this and is determined to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-capable regime. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) makes an excellent suggestion: Leave the Joint Plan of Action in place and let the next president “without the baggage” of Obama negotiate the deal. Now that is the best of the bad options.