The momentum to agree to something with Iran on their nuclear program is obvious even considering the public comments cautioning that a deal may not happen.
Discussion now centers on how long of a breakout lead-time a deal would create. This is to say, with agreed limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity, Iran could not produce sufficient material for a bomb in less than a notional period of time from the moment they decided to break the agreement. A year seems to be the popular figure among observers.
It is incredible that there seems to be no intention for Iran to come clean on work that they have done to design and test key parts of nuclear weapon design and mechanism. Even the IAEA in their most recent reports have pointed out the absence of any dialogue with Tehran to answer fundamental questions about where they stand regarding the ability to build a weapon. The public comments from the US negotiators seem silent on this. Iran has stonewalled any discussion of weaponization work. The delicate negotiators, apparently seeking to avoid confrontation, have given a name and acronym to such unmentionable concerns: Possible Military Dimensions, or PMD’s. If Iran won’t engage in this subject, that tells you something.
The acceptance as a measure of merit for an agreement of a breakout lead-time ignores other aspects of how far Iran has advanced. Weaponization is one, but Iran’s ability to deliver nuclear weapons on increasingly sophisticated ballistic missiles is another.
We should recognize that if there is an agreement along the lines that has been discussed, Iran will be in an internationally ratified position of being a “near nuclear weapon state.” This is a big deal.
What is the incentive for the Saudis or others to match the Iranian position?
Consider what a one year of lead-time really means practically? Suppose the US or some other country (or the IAEA) gets an indication that Iran is exceeding its production limits. How long will it take for the US and others to become convinced that this is unambiguous? How long will it take for the US and others to decide whether to do something? A year is not long. And what are they going to do? Reimpose sanctions? Bomb? Iran is evolving in importance in the region.
Maybe given all that’s going on in the region and the world, Washington has concluded that we can’t push Iran any further. But let everyone recognize exactly what we are agreeing to: Iran will be and will have the associated influence of a “near nuclear power.”
The US is accepting a substantially increased regional role for Iran. Indeed, to some states in the region, it seems the US is encouraging a greater role for Iran. Some believe we have a grand strategy linked to a more prominent role for Iran. After all, the nuclear talks are not unrelated to Syria, Iraq (where Iran has a dominant role) and other problems. Maybe there is a coherent strategy for Iran…maybe.
And maybe in the context of some greater strategy, what appears to be a bad nuclear deal is actually good. I would like to hear it that strategy.