Iran Nuclear Talks – Progress? | Charles Duelfer

Iran Nuclear Talks – Progress?

The announcement of the new elements coming from the talks with Tehran represents progress of a sort.  Basically there is a trade between Iran’s ongoing ability to enrich uranium (and produce plutonium) that could be used in a weapon and unblocking funds (and backing off on some sanctions for Iran).  Whether this “walks back” the Iran program significantly remains debatable.

Bear in mind, Iran can build a nuclear weapon.  It’s just a question of how long it would take.  Iran clearly has the intellectual capability and, currently, it has the industrial infrastructure to produce the specialized enriched nuclear material for a bomb.  They also have the ability to launch a weapon on their existing ballistic missiles.  The goal of those seeking to thwart an Iranian nuclear weapon has been to stop their progress towards a weapon and make the lead-time longer.  The recent agreement moves in the direction of lengthening the time it would take Tehran to accumulate the enriched nuclear material for a weapon.  It also improves the ability of IAEA weapons inspectors to detect cheating or a breakout by Iran.  Still we don’t know how long it would take Iran to build a weapon if it decided to.  The reason is we don’t know how much work Iran has done to design and test a weapon. They have refused to discuss this despite long efforts by the IAEA to engage them on this critical point.

This is the vital gap in the ongoing negotiations.  Until we know how far Iran has progressed in the design and testing of an actual bomb we have not succeeded.

A nuclear weapon requires enriched uranium or plutonium, but to make a weapon requires a very sophisticated design to cause compress and “ignite” the nuclear core.  This requires a lot of testing and very fine fabrication.  The international community does not have a good window into this.  The IAEA has been seeking access to facilities and individuals (particularly the Parchin facility) where substantial evidence points to Iranian “weaponization” development.

In essence, we can’t tell how far Iran is from a bomb because they have blocked—and still block—access to this data.    If the international community does not get a clear verifiable understanding of what progress Iran has made in “weaponization,” then sanctions and other measures should be swiftly reinstalled.

From Tehran’s perspective, if they come clean, they risk an international reaction that could block progress in sanctions relief.  Particularly if they have done significant weapons design testing.  It will be a tricky decision for Iran to make.

However, unless President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry can at some point stand up and say categorically that Iran has declared their full program, including its “weaponization” development (and describe publicly what it is/was) then no one should expect sanctions to be lifted.

I look forward to seeing a full public briefing of the Iranian nuclear program, to include details of it’s implosion design, triggering mechanism, fusing for use on a ballistic missile, etc. It may be embarrassing to Iran (and potential its supporters who may have assisted it).  

I also look forward to hearing how elaborate a future monitoring regime will be going forward.  If Tehran is earnest on these two points, then they should have an on-ramp back to the international political and financial community.  If not…


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