Monday, November 25, 2013

Obama's Peace for Our Time Moment

The Obama Administration has made a deal on Iran's nuclear weapons production that gives Obama the illusion of a victory, while doing little or nothing to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Daily Mail describes the deal thusly:

Under the deal, Iran will curb many of its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for limited and gradual relief from painful economic sanctions. The six-month period will give diplomats time to negotiate a more sweeping agreement. 
The package includes freezing Iran's ability to enrich uranium at a maximum 5 percent level, which is well below the threshold for weapons-grade material and is aimed at easing Western concerns that Tehran could one day seek nuclear arms. International monitors will oversee Iran's compliance. 
For Iran, keeping the enrichment program active was a critical goal. Iran's leaders view the country's ability to make nuclear fuel as a source of national pride and an essential part of nuclear self-sufficiency.

As a different article reports,  "[t]he deal was struck after months of secret negotiations between officials from both Iran and the US, and finalized during talks involving five other world powers early Sunday morning in Geneva." Remember that fact--that this agreement was the result of secret negotiations between Obama's Administration and Iran--as the situation deteriorates 6 months hence. Also, neither Saudi Arabia or Israel were included in the peace talks.

The same article notes:

In addition to suspending further uranium enrichment, the country has also agreed to neutralize it's stockpile of near 20 per cent uranium, US officials said.
The regime will not install any new centrifuges, disable roughly half of the country's centrifuge capabilities, and limit production of machines to that only needed to replace damaged ones needed to continue a peaceful program aimed at producing nuclear power, said US officials. 
These actions include centrifuges at Natanz and Arak. 
'While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal,' said Mr Obama.
The deal also calls for 'unprecedented transparency and intrusive monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program,' according to a White House statement.
This transparency includes allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to all previously disputed facilities and the providing of all previously requested information about their operation.

As the first article cited above noted, Israel is particularly displeased by the deal.
While most Gulf countries remained silent in the first hours after the deal was reached in Geneva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasted little time in criticizing it, calling it a 'historic mistake' and saying he was not bound by the agreement. 
Speaking to his Cabinet, Netanyahu said the world had become a 'more dangerous place' as a result of the deal. He reiterated a long-standing threat to use military action against Iran if needed, declaring that Israel 'has the right and the duty to defend itself by itself.'
The United States Congress also lacks faith in Obama's agreement:
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have finally found common ground - a lack of confidence in Iran keeping to the historic agreement reached Sunday to suspend nuclear weapons ambitions. 
Both sides of the aisle affirmed skepticism Iran will keep its word and promised to strengthen already crippling sanctions against the Middle Eastern country if the non-proliferation deal crumbles.
The article goes on to note that Congressional leaders, from both parties, are considering imposing additional sanctions against Iran once Congress reconvenes in December.

There are legitimate concerns with the yet-to-be-signed agreement. Roger L. Simon observes:
... the most egregious part indeed comes down to centrifuges. Iran has some 19,000 of them — more than three times the amount of longtime nuclear-armed Pakistan. The agreement forbids the Iranians to build anymore, but, much more importantly, it allows the Iranians to fix any of their centrifuges that may be broken and get them working again..

How many of those 19,000 are broken? I’m not sure anyone outside Iran knows, ... But now — thanks to the deal that Obama and Kerry have put together — the Iranians will have six unmolested months to get as many of them up and running as they can, enriching uranium.

Speaking of which, Iran’s “right to enrich” is supposedly still under dispute, the Americans saying one thing about the language in the deal and the Iranians another. Some dispute. The prologue to the “interim” agreement states that the amount of enrichment will be decided in future negotiation, not (nota bene) whether enrichment will be allowed or not. (The specific language reads: “a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” Uh-huh.) Meanwhile, Iran is able to enrich up to five percent, not the previous alleged maximum of 3.5%. Whatever happened to that other 1/5%? Confusing, no? Oh, well, that’s a long way from the 20% needed for weaponization.

No, it’s not. It’s not very much at all when you have 19,000 centrifuges. How much of a setback for the Iranian nuclear weapons program is this five percent permissible level then? According to the New York Times, about as pro-Obama a publication as you can get outside of a Chicago Democratic Party newsletter, the current agreement will retard the Iranian program only about one month.
 From the Tower:
Western concessions – according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – will inject Iran with financial relief ultimately worth roughly $20 billion.

In exchange – per a quick New York Times assessment – Iran agreed to concessions that not only fall short of “roll[ing] back the vast majority of the advances Iran has made in the past five years,” but that shorten its breakout time by “only a month to a few months.” The interim deal allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 5% purity and to keep building new centrifuges to repair worn ones. Iran will have to convert its 20% enriched stock either to fuel or to diluted 5% stock, but those processes can be easily reversed within weeks. The only way to put that material beyond use is to actually irradiate the stock, but Iran doesn’t have the capacity to do that. In any case experts from the University of Virginia and the U. S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) recently warned [PDF]) that Iran can sneak across the nuclear finish line using only its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium. Inasmuch as Iran is not being forced to dismantle its centrifuges, there are fears it will either cheat or just wait six months and use them when the interim period expires.
 What sanctions that remain will likely be cast aside in coming months.

The arguably more significant danger, however, is that the sanctions regime cannot survive even the limited erosion that the deal entails. There are multiple scenarios under which the sanctions relief in the deal would trigger a downward spiral that irreversibly and substantially eroded the regime. The most immediate fear is that major powers and corporations will engage in a feeding frenzy to get into Iran: No one wants to be left behind as Iran’s market opens up, and so everyone tries to get in first. Pletka’s suggestion about the “psychology of impenetrable sanctions” is one mechanism for a downward spiral. Brookings Institute fellow Michael Doran earlier this week pointed to evidence that such a downward spiral was already beginning, with Paris looking to reopen a trade-related attaché office in Tehran next year.
Victor Davis Hansen has some thoughts on what happens in the likely event Iran doesn't live up to its bargain:
In the case of violations, will it be easier for Iran to return to weaponization or for the U.S. to reassemble allies to reestablish the sanctions? Will Israel now be more or less likely to consider preemption? Will the Sunni states feel some relief or more likely pursue avenues to achieve nuclear deterrence? Will allies like Japan or South Korea feel that the U.S. has reasserted its old global clout, or further worry that their patron might engage in secret talks with, say, China rather than reemphasize their security under the traditional U.S. umbrella?

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