Listening to President Obama this morning, without access to the text of the agreement, I found key concessions made against his previously announced minimum criteria concealed in pleasing formulations presented as great accomplishments. ‘Twas a famous victory.
The deal must be the worst ever entered into by the United States. It is certainly “an historic mistake.” Based in part on Obama’s statement itself and in part on previous news accounts, I think the following summary provided by Omri Ceren provides a useful guide.
(1) The Iranian nuclear program will be placed under international sponsorship for R&D – A few weeks ago the AP leaked parts of an annex confirming that a major power would be working with the Iranians to develop next-generation centrifuge technology at the Fordow underground military enrichment bunker. Technically the work won’t be on nuclear material, but the AP noted that “isotope production uses the same technology as enrichment and can be quickly re-engineered to enriching uranium.” The administration had once promised Congress that Iran would be forced to dismantle its centrifuge program. The Iranians refused, so the administration conceded that the Iranians would be allowed to keep their existing centrifuges. Now the international community will be actively sponsoring the development of Iranian nuclear technology. And since the work will be overseen by a great power, it will be off-limits to the kind of sabotage that has kept the Iranian nuclear program in check until now.
(2) The sanctions regime will be shredded – the AP revealed at the beginning of June that the vast majority of the domestic U.S. sanctions regime will be dismantled. The Lausanne factsheet – which played a key role in dampening Congressional criticism to American concessions – had explicitly stated “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.” That turns out to have been false. Instead the administration will redefine non-nuclear sanctions as nuclear, so that it can lift them. The Iranians are boasting that sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank, NIT Co., the National Iranian Oil Company, and 800 individuals and entities will be lifted. That’s probably exaggerated and a bit confused – CBI sanctions are statutory, and will probably not be getting “lifted” – but the sense is clear enough.
(3) The U.S. collapsed on the arms embargo – Just a week ago General Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.” Now multiple outlets have confirmed that the embargo on conventional weapons will be lifted no later than five years from now, and that the embargo on ballistic missiles will expire in 8 years. No one in the region is going to wait for those embargoes to expire: they’ll rush to build up their stockpiles in anticipation of the sunset.
(4) The U.S. collapsed on anytime-anywhere inspections – The IAEA will get to request access to sensitive sites, the Iranians will get to say no, and then there will be an arbitration board that includes Iran as a member. This concession is particularly damaging politically and substantively because the administration long ago went all-in on verification. The original goal of the talks was to make the Iranians take physical actions that would prevent them from going nuclear if they wanted to: dismantling centrifuges, shuttering facilities, etc. The Iranians said no to those demands, and the Americans backed off. The fallback position relied 100% on verification: yes the Iranians would be physically able to cheat, the argument went, but the cheating would be detected because of an anytime-anywhere inspection regime. That is not what the Americans are bringing home.
(5) The U.S. collapsed on PMDs – This morning the Iranians and the IAEA signed a roadmap for a process that would see Tehran eventually providing access for the IAEA to clear up its concerns. This roadmap differs in no significant way from previous commitments the Iranians have made to the agency, except now Tehran will have received sanctions relief and stabilized its economy. Administration officials will have to look at lawmakers and nonetheless promise that this time the Iranians will give the IAEA what it needs.
UPDATE: The Islamic Republic of Iran has posted the English text of the deal here: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” What a relief!