|A poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is seen next to bank of centrifuges in a facility in Natanz. (Reuters)|
Bottom line: this six-moth accord buys us a one-month delay in how long it will take Iran to build a bomb — maybe two or three months if we're lucky. In return the western powers gave Iran $6 or $7 billion in sanctions relief, a delay in further sanctions, and an effective "right" to enrich uranium, a concession which virtually guarantees that Iran can eventually get a bomb.
To get even this much took a decade of increasingly harsh sanctions, the threat of an imminent military attack from Israel and a full year of negotiation.
Five years ago, Iran had enough uranium enriched to 5% to build one bomb. Today, it has enough to build four. In six months when this agreement expires, it will have enough to build five or six. That's the bottom line.
WASHINGTON — The interim accord struck with Iran on Sunday interrupts the country’s nuclear progress for the first time in nearly a decade, but requires Iran to make only a modest down payment on the central problem.
The deal does not roll back the vast majority of the advances Iran has made in the past five years, which have drastically shortened what nuclear experts call its “dash time” to a bomb — the minimum time it would take to build a weapon if Iran’s supreme leader decided to pursue that path.
Lengthening that period, so that the United States and its allies would have time to react, is the ultimate goal of President Obama’s negotiating team. It is also a major source of friction between the White House and two allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have made no secret of their belief that they are being sold down the river.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has described the terms of the accord announced early Sunday as a “bad deal” that does not require Iran “to take apart even one centrifuge.” That bitter assessment reflects the deep suspicion inside Mr. Netanyahu’s government that Mr. Obama will settle for a final agreement that leaves Iran a few screwdriver turns short of a weapon.
The Saudis have been equally blistering, hinting in vague asides that if the United States cannot roll back the Iranian program, it may be time for Saudi Arabia to move to Plan B — nuclear weapons of its own, presumably obtained from Pakistan, which entered the nuclear club on Saudi subsidies.
Iran’s agreement to convert or dilute the fuel stocks that are closest to weapons grade, Mr. Obama said, means that the deal would “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.” But it would cut them off only temporarily, long enough to pursue negotiations without fear that Iran would use the time to inch closer to a weapons capability.
But the rollback he won for this first stage, according to American intelligence estimates, would slow Iran’s dash time by only a month to a few months.
Mr. Obama met with senators from both parties last week, hoping to dissuade them from imposing new sanctions just as he is lifting some in an effort to coax Iran toward disarmament. But even some of his closest allies are unconvinced: Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week noting that the temporary accord “would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions,” which require complete suspension of nuclear production.
On the Iranian side, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which American intelligence agencies have accused of running a secret weapons-design program, may try to chip away at the accord as well, arguing that the sanctions relief is puny and that even the caps on enrichment will slow Iran’s efforts to build its nuclear capabilities.
Mr. Kerry and his chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, say they have no illusions that the interim agreement solves the Iranian nuclear problem. It simply creates time and space for the real negotiations, they say, where the goal will be to convince Iranian leaders that the only way to get the most crippling sanctions — those that have cut the country’s oil revenue in half — lifted is to dismantle large parts of a program on which they have spent billions of dollars and staked national pride.
Lurking over the American negotiating team is the specter of what can go wrong even with a seemingly good deal to buy time. As Ms. Sherman was coaxing Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, toward the interim agreement, the North Koreans were restarting a nuclear reactor that they had partly dismantled in a similar agreement struck late in the administration of President George W. Bush — a deal meant to halt North Korea’s ability to produce plutonium fuel for weapons.
The North Korean example has become Exhibit No. 1 in Israel’s argument that the deal struck on Sunday gives a false sense of security. “There are two models for a deal: Libya and North Korea,” Israel’s minister of strategic affairs and intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, said in an interview during a recent trip to Washington. “We need Libya.”
Mr. Steinitz was referring to a 2003 agreement in which Libya gave up all of its nuclear equipment and was left with no ability to make nuclear fuel.
At the beginning of Mr. Obama’s presidency, Iran had roughly 2,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, barely enough for a bomb. It now has about 9,000 kilograms, by the estimates of the International Atomic Energy Agency. A few thousand centrifuges were spinning in 2009; today there are 18,000, including new models that are far more efficient and can produce bomb-grade uranium faster. A new heavy water reactor outside the city of Arak promises a new pathway to a bomb, using plutonium, if it goes online next year as Iran says it will.
True rollback would mean dismantling many of those centrifuges, shipping much of the fuel out of the country or converting it into a state that could not be easily adapted to bomb use, and allowing inspections of many underground sites where the C.I.A., Europe and Israel believe hidden enrichment facilities may exist. There is no evidence of those facilities now, but, as a former senior Obama administration official said recently, speaking anonymously to discuss intelligence, “there has never been a time in the past 15 years or so when Iran didn’t have a hidden facility in construction.”
There is also the problem of forcing Iran to reveal what kind of progress it has made toward designing a weapon. For years, its leaders have refused to answer questions about documents, slipped out of the country by a renegade scientist nearly eight years ago, that strongly suggest work on a nuclear warhead. Inspectors have never been able to interview Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the academic believed to be in charge of a series of weapons development projects.