Explaining Iran's nuclear deal win
Look carefully: The U.S. is on the road to accepting Tehran's program


Iran got what it bargained for.

President Obama heralded the nuclear agreement with Iran as "an important first step toward a comprehensive solution that addresses our concerns with the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear program." That is an awfully sanguine description for an agreement that puts the U.S. on the road to surrendering and accepting Iran's illicit nuclear program.

There have always been two paths for how the nuclear issue will be settled. Either Iran's leadership is compelled to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability and shut the program down verifiably or the United States and the West decide that they will accommodate the Iranian regime and attempt to live with its nuclear weapons program. The "interim" agreement that came out of negotiations in Geneva is the worst of both worlds: accommodation masquerading as abandonment.

The President billed the terms of the deal "the most significant and tangible progress that we've made with Iran since I took office." Yet the agreement does not roll back the advancements Iran has made since 2009.

Between February 2009 and November 2013, Iran's inventory of installed centrifuges increased from about 5,500 to more than 19,000. This increase includes recently installed advanced machines with greater output. Over that same time period, Iran produced more than 20,000 pounds of enriched uranium gas that is almost three-quarters of the way to weapons-grade material.

In addition, Iran further enriched some of that material to a level that is approximately nine-tenths of the way to weapons-grade material. A second undeclared enrichment facility buried inside of a mountain that was exposed by U.S. and allied intelligence efforts was also commissioned and outfitted with centrifuges over the last several years. The Iranians have also made significant progress in developing a heavy water reactor that provides a plutonium pathway to producing nuclear weapons fuel.

The entirety of Iran's infrastructure and feedstock for producing nuclear weapons fuel remains intact. This is yet another indicator that the Iranians are not prepared to abandon their pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.

It is well known that Iran currently has zero requirements for maintaining indigenous uranium enrichment capabilities since Russia is providing fuel supplies for its sole operational nuclear power plant. Similarly, it is common knowledge that there is no legitimate civilian justification for the development of the Arak heavy water reactor. Iran's insistence on maintaining these facilities reflects an effort to position itself to quickly build and deploy a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Many of the steps Iran has said it will take, such as the conversion of near-weapons-grade uranium from gas to solid form, are reversible. Defenders of the deal have attempted to praise the various commitments Iran signed onto, but it is not clear how those elements of the agreement are anything more than hollow promises.

Iran has said, for example, that it will refrain from building additional enrichment facilities and will limit its centrifuge production. How exactly will those claims be checked? How will we know the Iranians are showing the extent of what they have? In reality, these claims cannot be fully verified under this agreement because of Iran's well-documented history of concealment.

Accepting these terms as legitimate requires one to ignore Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman's spot-on assessment that deception is part of the Iranian regime's DNA.

This agreement also sidesteps other elements of Iran's nuclear weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented Iran's extensive work on the design and development of a nuclear weapon. This includes indications that Iran has continued pursuing activities relevant to nuclear weapons development in recent years. In addition, there are data demonstrating that the Iranian scientific community, elements of which have ties to the military establishment, is advancing research efforts that would contribute to the eventual manufacture of nuclear weapons.

There is nothing concrete in this agreement that deals with these issues or ensures a full accounting of Iran's weaponization-related activities. The same can be said for Iran's development of ballistic missiles for use as delivery vehicles.

Iran has been running an illicit nuclear weapons program in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Geneva agreement represents an effort on the part of the Obama administration to try and manage the Iranian nuclear weapons program rather than insist and seek a verifiable dismantling and end to it.

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About the Author


  • Maseh Zarif is the deputy director and Iran research Team Lead for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. He works on national security issues related to the Middle East and South Asia, with a particular focus on Iran’s nuclear program and its regional activities. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review Online, and Foreign Policy, among others, and has appeared on CNN and Fox. Before joining AEI, he worked for several years in corporate finance as an analyst and a consultant.

  • Phone: 202.862.5929
    Email: maseh.zarif@aei.org

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