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Lost in all the optimism surrounding the agreement signed in Geneva today is the reality that Iran’s nuclear negotiators pocketed a highly-sought concession from the US and the international community that has nothing to do with sanctions relief: the implicit acceptance and legitimization of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.
There will be no complete “freeze” or “halt” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program under the terms of the agreement. Core elements of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and the feedstock needed to produce fissile material will remain intact while its weaponization- and delivery vehicle-related activities are left unaddressed. The commitment to convert a stockpile of near-weapons-grade material to a different form does not neutralize the threat or have any significant effect on breakout timelines. The P5+1 reportedly dropped a demand that Iran fully dismantle the Arak heavy water reactor during the course of negotiations. A commitment “to not construct additional enrichment facilities” is extremely difficult to verify and would hinge largely on the word of a regime that, as the lead US negotiator Wendy Sherman noted, has a streak of deception in its DNA. The agreement will not verifiably prevent Iran from continuing to build and test centrifuges during ongoing negotiations for future introduction into known or covert facilities. Increased rates of inspection at Natanz and Fordow would be an improvement over the status quo at those sites, but they do not address the prospect of Iran producing fissile material covertly at other facilities, which the intelligence community has assessed as the most likely breakout scenario.
As a consequence of this agreement, the elimination of Iran’s nuclear weapons program—including the verifiable dismantling of all enrichment and reprocessing capabilities—is (officially) no longer the standard. The US and the international community are now choosing to go down the dangerous path towards trying to contain an Iranian nuclear weapons program. That is the hallmark of a bad deal for anyone serious about confronting this issue and the broader threat posed by Iran.
In 2008, then-Senator Obama said that the Iranian regime will be presented with a clear choice: “If you abandon your dangerous nuclear program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, there will be meaningful incentives — including the lifting of sanctions, and political and economic integration with the international community. If you refuse, we will ratchet up the pressure.” Iran’s leader Ali Khamenei has refused to abandon these pursuits or his regime’s efforts to dominate the Middle East. The president definitively signaled today that the bar for what he is willing to accept from the Iranian regime is much lower than has been advertised all along.
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