For around seven billion dollars in sanctions relief, the International Community gets Iran to agree for six months to no net increases in its stockpile of enriched uranium, no new production of uranium enriched beyond five percent, and the destruction, or dilution, of all uranium enriched to near 20 percent, which is one technical step away from weapons grade uranium. Iran also agrees not to build any new centrifuges while idling more than half of its already existing centrifuges, all next-generation centrifuges, and all construction on its hard-water reactor near Arak, which could be used to make plutonium. Meanwhile, Iran would have to allow more invasive monitoring, including monthly and daily visits by IAEA inspectors to nuclear sites.
Although this interim deal, which goes into effect January 20, 2014, may only delay the ability of Iran to produce nuclear material from two weeks to only two months according to former IAEA deputy director Ollie Heinonen, it does break the forward momentum of Iran’s nuclear program. Before we can reverse the nuclearization process, the social inertia that has been provoking our adversarial relationship with Iran for decades must be overcome. This interim deal ensures the US and the rest of the world can continue to engage in negotiations over the nuclear issue and other grievances we have with Iran without giving up too much, too soon.
Six months is a long time, if used properly. Consequently, the deal affords the US, the International Community, and Iran the space to develop a more mature plan without easing the lion’s share of our sanctions. In addition, the seven billion dollars gives Iran assurances that the world is serious. Although the Obama Administration continues to push for immediate progress with Iran on its nuclear program, it important to remember this short-term deal is only an intermediate step that ensures talks can move forward. That said, a long-term deal must address the world’s most fundamental interest in preventing the proliferation of nuclear material, technology, and weapons.
Due to America’s global interests, the United States, as well as the rest of the West, has great interest in resolving the Iranian nuclear issues. Of course, countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel have even more immediate interests when it comes to the nuclearization of Iran. Speed only guarantees political credit is given to those who started negotiations, yet a permanent nuclear deal must focus on minimizing Iran’s future ability to build a nuclear weapon. The most apparent means of accomplishing this goal would be for Iran to give up its ability to enrich nuclear material. Unfortunately, Iran has been more than resistant to such a notion.
In fact, the interim deal itself is threatened by legislators in both Iran and the United States. Iranians lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would force Iran’s atomic energy industry to immediately produce 60 percent enriched uranium. Clearly, this would kill the deal, as well as any chance of reaching a long-term deal, while it would result in the US increasing sanctions as well as other consequences to Iran. On the American front, political leaders want to move forward with new sanctions, though President Obama has promised to veto the measure and it is unlikely the bill will make it to the floor of the Senate. Meanwhile, there are also several other complications given Iran’s involvement in other activities that go against the vital interests of the West, including Iran’s support of the designated terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, its intervention in the Syrian Civil War on behalf of President Bashar Al-Assad, and its suppression of domestic democratic movements.
Fitting this latest development into the overall dialog of recent US engagement in the Middle East, it often seems America is simply looking out for its interests as was perceived when the US agreed to ignore the Syrian People’s most pressing needs in favor of destroying Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles, i.e. we failed to take action against Assad’s military in order to address the International Community’s concerns. This is a problem, because America needs to show the Peoples of the Middle East that the United States is a legitimate authority looking to build partnerships capable of serving our interests and their interests. As such, the US needs to make a really good long-term deal with Iran or eventually walk away. After all, any deal will come with a hefty price in terms of soft power.
The interest of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon must eventually be served by guaranteeing Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon in the future. Because Iran has bluntly refused to dismantle its ability to enrich, the best possible deal at this time is one that keeps a dialog open between the West and Iran while halting Iran’s progress on its nuclear program until a permanent deal can be reached. In fact, a limited delay on new sanctions and acceptance of this agreement will offer the Iranians an incentive to reach an agreement amicable to Western and regional interests. Meanwhile, America must also seek breakthroughs on the other issues we have with Iran. Moreover, the US does not need to accept a bad nuclear deal with Iran, but we should accept this interim nuclear deal until a better, long-term one might be reached.