by Rafael L. Bardají
In terms of nuclear infrastructure Iran will be as close to getting the bomb in six months as it is today. Geneva leaves Iran with something it was never granted before: the right to enrich uranium. It decouples technologies from the activities of a regime that has sponsored terrorism, deceived IAEA inspectors, and systematically refused to meet the requirements imposed by the United Nations. And we all know how selective sanctions work: Nobody complies. Far from concessions, Westerners can expect more intransigence.
The idea, according to the U.S. administration, is to stimulate the Iranian leaders' appetite to lead them into more concessions in exchange for improving Iran's economy.
The agreement reached by the group of countries known as P-5+1½ (that is, the five permanent U.N. Security Council powers plus Germany and the European Union representative) with Iran regarding its nuclear program has been rated by its proponents—President Obama's followers—as a "historic agreement," while opponents—primarily Israel and the Gulf monarchies—have criticized the deal since they consider it to be a "historic mistake." It's actually both, a historic mistaken agreement.
Why is it mistaken? Very simple: In the first place, because the agreement leaves Iranian uranium enrichment capabilities intact. Iran has only pledged to freeze production of 3.5%-enriched uranium for just six months, so that its stock hasn't increased at the end of that period. However, Iran isn't required to dismantle its centrifuges, close to 20,000 today, which may be revamped when they suffer damage or get old. Therefore, in terms of nuclear infrastructure, Iran will be as close to getting its bomb in six months as it is already today. The agreement is focused on the product, not on the process to achieve it, which remains intact. Certainly, Iran agrees to get rid of its 20%-enriched uranium, degrading it from military use; yet that's not as important as keeping the capabilities to raise again the level of enrichment when it deems it appropriate. Indeed, Geneva leaves Iran with something it was never granted before: The right to enrich uranium, an activity that the U.N. demanded to be completely halted.
In the second place, it's mistaken because, in exchange for something that doesn't exist today—increasing its enrichment capacity, which is a future possibility— Iran is granted real and tangible rewards, such as the partial lifting of painstakingly-imposed sanctions, an effort that took years to achieve. The Teheran regime's coffers will get over USD $7 billion in a short period of time. The idea, according to the U.S. administration, is to stimulate the Iranian leaders' appetite to lead them into more concessions, in exchange for improving Iran's economy. However, what can happen is quite the opposite. Once relieved of the social pressure exerted by citizens, disgruntled with how these leaders have managed the country and the hard living conditions they imposed, the regime of the ayatollahs will feel stronger and better equipped to negotiate from a position of advantage. Far from major concessions, Westerners can expect more intransigence.
In the third place, it's mistaken because the agreement is not only limited in time, but also limited in its conception: It only addresses the technical aspects of the nuclear program and leaves behind everything around it. The deal says nothing of other essential components, such as the knowledge and technology to make a nuclear warhead, and collateral programs regarding long-range missiles that can go on uninterrupted. Even worse, it decouples these technologies from the nature and activities of a regime that, as everyone knows well, has sponsored terrorism, has deceived IAEA inspectors, and systematically refused to meet the requirements imposed by the UN. Nothing is said about Iran's ambitions of regional dominance, or about its links to Bashar al-Assad, whom Iran has directly propped up in power, or about Hezbollah and Hamas. This agreement strongly recalls the one President Obama allowed Putin to make regarding Syria's chemical weapons. Although these weapons are no longer used, the killings go on by other means. Decoupling Iran's nuclear program from the repressive, violent, and expansionist nature of the regime in Teheran cannot yield a happy outcome.
Finally, it's wrong for the way it was done. President Obama kept U.S. allies in the region as well as his European partners out of the loop. In fact, France refused to sign the agreement during the first round of the Geneva talks after Paris found an agreed-upon text by the Americans, leaving acceptance as the only choice.
That brings us to why this agreement is very dangerous. It jeopardizes the sanctions regime as we all know how selective sanctions work: Nobody complies. Furthermore, this interim arrangement leads to a profound reconfiguration of the entire region according to the new U.S. orientation to advance a comprehensive dialogue with Iran, which leaves Israel and Saudi Arabia behind — America's traditional allies in the region. Obama apparently wants to restore good relations with Teheran and nothing else matters as long as it's achieved, even if this requires turning a blind eye to Syria, accepting a pro-Iranian government in Iraq, reaching a tacit understanding with the Hezbollah terrorists, and allowing Iran to become virtually a nuclear state — that is, with the capability to produce a nuclear bomb in no time. The problem is that the U.S. Administration just doesn't seem to understand the Middle East: that no one in the region is going to sit idly. The nuclear proliferation that America didn't want is going to be the only thing it will get, due to its rushed desire to sign a deal with Iran.
This agreement is based on a double delusion: That we can trust Iran and that, if Iranians don't honor the deal, we will be able to impose new sanctions. And yet, what it actually does is to put an end to the sanctions regime without the ayatollahs putting an end to their stated ambitions. In six months, Iran will not be further from a nuclear bomb but we will be further from the capacity to impose more sanctions.
Rafael L. Bardají is Senior Advisor for international security to former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar. He served in Spain's government as National Security Advisor from 1996-2004. Mr. Bardaji is the Director of Foreign Policy at FAES, a think tank in Madrid and the Executive Director of Friends of Israel Initiative.
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