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There is no better nuclear deal with Iran

Rebutting Yuval Steinitz's criticism: The agreement pushes Tehran back from the brink of nuclear weapons

The parameters that Iran, the United States and its negotiating partners agreed to in Switzerland on April 2 lay the foundation for a strong, effective nuclear deal that verifiably blocks Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. There is no better nuclear deal with Iran on the horizon.

Yet some Israeli policymakers are making unrealistic and unhelpful demands for additional concessions in a final agreement. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz distributed a document on April 6 that underlined the “irresponsible concessions given to Iran” in the negotiations and called for a better deal that will “significantly dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”

Contrary to Steinitz’s claim,
the agreement being negotiated does not pave Iran’s pathway to nuclear weapons. Rather, the deal will remove two thirds of Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity, restrict Iran to enriching uranium to levels only suitable for nuclear power plants, and put up additional roadblocks, including an unprecedented monitoring regime, to ensure that there is no covert nuclear weapons program.

In addition to cutting its centrifuges from 20,000 to 6,000, Iran will neutralize 97 percent of its low-enriched uranium stockpile. It is unclear, as Steinitz noted, whether the stockpile will be shipped out or diluted. But the method of neutralization is not important, so long as Iran cannot access the material.

Taken together, these measures ensure that it would take Iran at least 12 months to enrich enough material for a bomb. If there is no deal, that timeframe will quickly whittle away to just weeks – not enough time to mount an international effort to head off a dash to nuclear weapons.

Steintiz’s concern about Iran’s compliance with any nuclear deal is legitimate. Iran has a history of covert nuclear activities and unanswered questions about past work related to nuclear weapons development. But the deal under negotiation takes into account that history and will build a comprehensive, multilayered monitoring regime that ensures that Tehran could not take steps toward nuclear weapons without detection.

Under this agreement, every step of Iran’s nuclear program will be under surveillance. From the uranium mines to the enrichment facilities, Iran’s program will be under an international microscope designed to prevent diversion and detect covert activities. Inspectors will have access to a wider range of Iran’s facilities and can conduct short-notice visits to verify compliance.

Steinitz questions why inspectors will not be able to “go anywhere, anytime” if there is suspected weapons activities. No country would grant international inspectors carte-blanche access to military facilities. And that level of access is not necessary in Iran’s case. If the international community has reason to believe that Iran is conducting experiments related to nuclear weaponization, inspectors will be granted access to those sites.

The strength of this agreement is that the international community will not need to trust Iran to comply with the limits of the deal – intrusive verification and intense monitoring will tell the tale of Iranian compliance or noncompliance.

John Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, called the monitoring and verification “as solid as you can get” and those who say that the deal paves Iran’s pathway to the bomb are “wholly disingenuous.”

And if Iran cheats, the international community can take immediate steps to reimpose sanctions and respond to the violation. Sanctions on Iran will not be removed immediately under a deal as Steinitz suggests, only waived to provide Iran with incentives to follow through on key nuclear reductions. The core architecture of US and UN sanctions will remain in place for years – allowing for rapid reimposition if Iran violates the deal.

Iran also will not be let off the hook for its past work related to nuclear weapons development, as Steinitz suggests. While Iran’s nuclear weapons program ended in 2003, Tehran must comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation into its past activities. A good nuclear deal incentivizes that cooperation, and the April 2 framework notes that UN Security Council sanctions will not be lifted until Iran opens up about its past weapons work.

This deal is a breakthrough for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. It demonstrates that the international community is well-equipped to catch countries that flout international law and put in place severe consequences for pursuing covert nuclear activities.

No nuclear deal with Iran will be perfect. But an agreement that blocks Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons does not have to be perfect. A deal that significantly limits Iran’s nuclear program, pushes Tehran back from the brink of nuclear weapons, and puts in place stringent and intrusive monitoring will do the job.

Demanding more will only push Iran away from the negotiating table, jeopardize the deal at hand, and open the door to a rapid expansion of Iran’s nuclear capabilities. If the Netanyahu government succeeds in blocking the conclusion of this deal, Iran’s nuclear program will be unconstrained with far less monitoring. That poses far more of a threat to Israel’s national security than leaving Iran with a few thousand centrifuges.

About the Author
Kelsey Davenport is the Director for Nonproliferation Policy at the independent, nonpartisan Arms Control Association.
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