November 27, 2013 at 1:00 am
Pact signed by U.S. and others allows Iranians to keep edging toward nuclear capability
There’s a lot more to be worried about in the deal the United States and other nations struck with Iran than there is to be encouraged by. For starters, it ought to raise a red flag that our two key allies in the Middle East — Israel and Saudi Arabia — have described the pact as dangerous, while the Iranians are declaring a victory.
Making your friends fearful and your enemy happy may not be the best place to start.
The agreement forged by the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany is aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the short term while providing the framework for negotiations to peacefully neutralize Iran as a nuclear threat.
While the signers, excluding Germany, make up the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the agreement steps outside of the terms of U.N. resolutions demanding that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment. The U.N. imposed economic sanctions to force Tehran to adhere to that condition.
But the pact doesn’t require suspension. Rather, it allows the regime to continue enriching uranium to the 5 percent level, the amount necessary to run an electric plant. Iran also gets to keep its centrifuges and other enrichment infrastructure. It will be allowed to keep most of its stockpiles of enriched uranium and can continue operating its plutonium reactor.
Iran must oxidize the uranium it has already enriched to 20 percent, just short of bomb-making capability, and submit to international inspections of its nuclear facilities.
The infrastructure for weaponizing its nuclear stores remains intact. The signers are relying on an untested monitoring process to ensure that Iran does not use it for that purpose
This deal is not much different than the one former President George W. Bush signed with North Korea eight years ago. That agreement was short-lived; North Korea quickly ignored it and went back to its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
President Barack Obama, in placing his trust in a new Iranian regime, faces the same uncertainty.
Allowing Iran to keep enriching uranium, even at lesser levels, presents a very low hurdle to resuming its full-scale push toward nuclear capability.
It’s not clear whether all of Iran’s nuclear development sites will be open to the verification process Obama promises, since the country has not signed onto an international agreement for on-demand inspections.
The sanctions against Iran will be loosened in this first step, but not entirely lifted. Once the punishing economic penalties are eased, it will be extremely difficult to effectively tighten them. It could well be that Iran is simply buying time in signing this six-month agreement.
The Israelis tend to believe the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini when he calls Jews subhuman and rabid dogs, as he did again last week. That sort of talk from a neighbor armed with the most deadly of weapons would make anyone nervous.
Israel is faced with the unsavory choice of acting alone to deter Iran’s weapons program militarily if it determines that is necessary for its security.
The stepping-stone approach to dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat may work, and it may be the only option short of a military strike.
But by not requiring a dismantling of its enrichment infrastructure, this first pact allows the Iranians to walk right up to the point of creating a nuclear weapon. Once there, it will be much more challenging to dissuade them from taking the final step.