I encourage our readers to read the “Joint Plan of Action” agreed to by Iran, the U.S. and other nations in Geneva yesterday; Scott linked to it here. Some provisions of the agreement are technical and require an understanding of nuclear power and nuclear weapons to fully appreciate them. Other provisions relating to inspections may or may not be of significance; again, one would need considerable technical expertise to be sure.
But the basic framework of the deal is puzzling. By all accounts, the sanctions that have been in place have put serious pressure on Iran’s rulers. They are anxious, to say the least, to be able to sell larger quantities of petroleum and petrochemicals and obtain hard currency. In that context, the agreement buys considerable relief for the mullahs. The Obama administration agreed, for the next six months, to:
Pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales, enabling Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil. Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad.
In addition, all sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports and on gold and precious metals have been suspended, and the U.S. has promised not to enact any new sanctions during the next six months. So Iran’s regime has bought considerable breathing room. What is striking about the agreement, on its face, is how little Iran gave up to obtain this badly-needed relief. In essence, it promised not to enrich uranium past 5% during the next six months. Of its existing stock of 20% enriched uranium, Iran will keep one-half and dilute the other half to 5%. But Iran’s enrichment program will continue, its research will go on, its nuclear facilities will not be dismantled. The agreement doesn’t mention Iran’s missile research and development, so that will continue.
Iran’s goals are long-term, not short-term, so a six-month pause in its nuclear weapons program–a partial pause, at best, since enrichment will continue–is not of great significance. But letting Iran’s economy up off the mat will strengthen the mullahs’ position domestically and, ultimately, will help to fund ongoing military programs, including Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Further, the current six-month agreement contemplates that it may be succeeded by further interim agreements, leading to “the final step of a comprehensive solution,” under which all sanctions will be lifted and Iran’s nuclear program will be regarded as normal and legitimate.
So the basics of the interim deal seem favorable to Iran. This is certainly how Iran’s government is portraying it. The semi-official FARS News headlines, “Foreign Minister: Iran to Continue Nuclear Activities.”
“The (nuclear) program has been recognized and the Iranian people’s right to use the peaceful nuclear technology based on the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and as an inalienable right has been recognized and countries are necessitated not to create any obstacle on its way,” [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif said in a press conference in Geneva on Saturday morning.
“The (nuclear) program will continue and all the sanctions and violations against the Iranian nation under the pretext of the nuclear program will be removed gradually,” he added.
He said the next six months will be a serious start towards “the full removal of all UN Security Council, unilateral and multilateral sanctions, while the country’s enrichment program will be maintained.” “Production of 5-percent-enriched uranium will continue in the country similar the past,” Zarif continued.
“None of the enrichment centers will be closed and Fordo and Natanz will continue their work and the Arak heavy water program will continue in its present form and no material (enriched uranium stockpiles) will be taken out of the country and all the enriched materials will remain inside the country. The current sanctions will move towards decrease, no sanctions will be imposed and Iran’s financial resources will return,” he continued.
“This is a great success that the attempts made by the Zionist regime’s leaders to misrepresent Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and the Iranian people’s face were foiled,” he said.
“Iran’s enrichment program has been recognized both in the first step and in the goals section and in the final step as well,” Zarif said.
“The fact that all these pressures have failed to cease Iran’s enrichment program is a very important success for the Iranian nation’s resistance,” he added.
Unfortunately, that appears to be an accurate assessment of the import of the agreement.