by Ari Yashar, Cynthia Blank
Famous former secretaries of state Kissinger and Shultz break down the nuclear deal, and why it demands US 'soul-searching.'
Joining the outpouring of criticism against the Iranian nuclear framework deal announced last week on Tuesday were legendary former US Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, who warned of the implications of the deal.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, the two veteran diplomats wrote that "debate regarding technical details of the deal has thus far inhibited the soul-searching necessary regarding its deeper implications."
"For 20 years, three presidents of both major parties proclaimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon was contrary to American and global interests - and that they were prepared to use force to prevent it. Yet negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first ten years," they wrote.
The assessment echoes statements this week by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, who celebrated the "diplomatic jihad" victory in forcing the US to change its policy and give up its military option.
Kissinger and Shultz noted that by "mixing shrewd diplomacy with open defiance of U.N. resolutions, Iran has gradually turned the negotiation on its head. Iran’s centrifuges have multiplied from about 100 at the beginning of the negotiation to almost 20,000 today. The threat of war now constrains the West more than Iran."
"While Iran treated the mere fact of its willingness to negotiate as a concession, the West has felt compelled to break every deadlock with a new proposal. In the process, the Iranian program has reached a point officially described as being within two to three months of building a nuclear weapon," they added. "Under the proposed agreement, for 10 years Iran will never be further than one year from a nuclear weapon and, after a decade, will be significantly closer."
The two warned that "the gradual expiration of the framework agreement, beginning in a decade, will enable Iran to become a significant nuclear, industrial and military power after that time - in the scope and sophistication of its nuclear program and its latent capacity to weaponize at a time of its choosing. ...Iran will be in a position to bolster its advanced nuclear technology during the period of the agreement and rapidly deploy more advanced centrifuges...after the agreement expires or is broken."
Top Iranian officials said on Tuesday that they will start using advanced IR-8 centrifuges that are 20-times as effective as standard ones as soon as a deal is reached, meaning they would be able to produce a nuclear arsenal in a rapid timeframe.
For his part, US President Barack Obama admitted in an interview this week that as a result of the deal, Iran will be able to reach a "zero" breakout time by 2028, meaning it could produce nuclear weapons immediately whenever it wanted to.
Will Iran cheat?
The former secretaries of state noted that "the ultimate significance of the framework will depend on its verifiability and enforceability."
They pointed out there are various versions of the deal floating around and claiming different details, meaning "the so-called framework represents a unilateral American interpretation."
They also noted how the US changed its goal to a one-year window for nuclear breakout, after shelving original demands to dismantle significant parts of Iran's nuclear program. "The new approach complicates verification and makes it more political because of the vagueness of the criteria," they said.
"Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard - amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites," they wrote. "The physical magnitude of the effort is daunting. Is the International Atomic Energy Agency technically, and in terms of human resources, up to so complex and vast an assignment?"
The two assessed that "in a large country with multiple facilities and ample experience in nuclear concealment, violations will be inherently difficult to detect. ...The experience of Iran’s work on a heavy-water reactor during the 'interim agreement' period - when suspect activity was identified but played down in the interest of a positive negotiating atmosphere - is not encouraging."
"Compounding the difficulty is the unlikelihood that breakout will be a clear-cut event. More likely it will occur, if it does, via the gradual accumulation of ambiguous evasions," they noted. "When inevitable disagreements arise over the scope and intrusiveness of inspections, on what criteria are we prepared to insist and up to what point? If evidence is imperfect, who bears the burden of proof?"
Kissinger and Shultz pointed out that the threat of renewed sanctions which is "the agreement’s primary enforcement mechanism" will be a murky and difficult process to implement, and puts Iran at an advantage, because the deal gives Iran permanent sanctions relief "in exchange for temporary restraints on Iranian conduct."
A nuclear arms race in the Middle East
The two diplomats added that by changing American policy and accepting Iran's nuclear program, the deal poses another threat for the region which is already fraught with internecine violence.
"Some of the chief actors in the Middle East are likely to view the U.S. as willing to concede a nuclear military capability to the country they consider their principal threat," they wrote. "Several will insist on at least an equivalent capability. Saudi Arabia has signaled that it will enter the lists; others are likely to follow. In that sense, the implications of the negotiation are irreversible."
"Do we now envision an interlocking series of rivalries, with each new nuclear program counterbalancing others in the region?," they posed.
"Previous thinking on nuclear strategy also assumed the existence of stable state actors. Among the original nuclear powers, geographic distances and the relatively large size of programs combined with moral revulsion to make surprise attack all but inconceivable. How will these doctrines translate into a region where sponsorship of nonstate proxies is common, the state structure is under assault, and death on behalf of jihad is a kind of fulfillment?"
While there has been talk of an American nuclear umbrella for the Gulf states against Iran, the two argued that there are many issues complicating how and when such protection would be deployed.
Iranian hegemony in the region
Even as they commended the benefits of possibly restoring positive relations with Iran, the seasoned diplomats warned that cooperation with Iran "is not an exercise in good feeling; it presupposes congruent definitions of stability."
"There exists no current evidence that Iran and the U.S. are remotely near such an understanding. Even while combating common enemies, such as ISIS, Iran has declined to embrace common objectives," they said, noting anti-Western sentiment rampant in the Islamic regime.
Noting how Iran has been expanding its power in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, they assessed that "Tehran occupies positions along all of the Middle East’s strategic waterways and encircles archrival Saudi Arabia, an American ally. Unless political restraint is linked to nuclear restraint, an agreement freeing Iran from sanctions risks empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts."
"Absent the linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony. They will increasingly look to create their own nuclear balances and, if necessary, call in other powers to sustain their integrity," they wrote.
The two diplomats warned that as Sunni states "gear up to resist a new Shiite empire," the Middle East will be further destabilized, and "the passions of the region allied with weapons of mass destruction may impel deepening American involvement."
Kissinger and Shultz called for the US to produce a "strategic doctrine for the region," calling for Iran to be forced into accepting restraint on its "ability to destabilize the Middle East and challenge the broader international order."
"Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached, the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region," they concluded. "Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there - on complex new terms. History will not do our work for us; it helps only those who seek to help themselves."
Ari Yashar, Cynthia Blank
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.