Friday, April 3, 2015

What Are the Experts Saying About the Iran Deal?

Let's be honest, when the conversation turns to centrifuges and uranium enrichment levels, we can pretty much count on eyes glazing over for the majority of Americans. So the question becomes, how do we evaluate for ourselves whether or not the Obama administration and our P5+1 partners are in the process of working out a good deal on the Iranian nuclear program?

I'll tell you one thing we can't rely on - folks like presidential wanna be Gov. Scott Walker who promised to nix the whole deal on his first day in office before he even knew what was actually in it. That probably goes for the pearl-clutching antics of Peggy Noonan as well. Overall, I'd suggest that partisan pundits and political candidates are not the ones we need to hear from.

Some folks might be content to trust President Obama and Sec. John Kerry. Based on their records so far, that's not an entirely bad bet. But if you'd like more than that, there's one other group we can look to...the actual experts.

From what I've read so far, Max Fisher does the best job of explaining what has been agreed to so far in a way that those of us who are non-experts can understand. He calls on several experts to evaluate various measures of the deal and comes to the conclusion that the most significant part are the inspections that have been agreed to.
Even though the agreement is only a framework, the summary released on Thursday goes into striking detail on an issue that was always going to be among the most crucial: inspections.

Whatever number of centrifuges Iran has or doesn't have, whatever amount of uranium it's allowed to keep or forced to give up, none of it matters unless inspectors have enough authority to hold Tehran to its end of the deal — and to convince the Iranians that they could never get away with cheating. To say that the US got favorable terms here would be quite an understatement; the Iranians, when it comes to inspections, practically gave away the farm.

"I would give it an A," Stein said of the framework. When I asked why: "Because of the inspections and transparency."
Fisher also points out the one gaping hole that still has to be negotiated.
Still, this is just a framework deal on the basic terms; it covers a lot, but not everything. And there is one really important topic that is referenced only vaguely: how and when the world will lift its economic sanctions on Iran.

This has been a major sticking point throughout negotiations. Iran demands that all sanctions be lifted right away; their country needs a functioning economy, they say, and if they're complying with all of the restrictions as of day-one then they shouldn't have to endure crippling sanctions on day-two. But the US and others worry, with good reason, that if they lift all sanctions immediately then Iran will have far less incentive to follow through on its commitments, as it would be very difficult to re-impose those sanctions. And Iran has cheated on such agreements before.

This is a really difficult issue; each side has to trust, to some degree, that the other side will uphold its end of the deal. And someone has to go first. After decades of enmity, that's hard.
I encourage you to go read Fisher's whole article if you want to inform yourself about what he calls "an astonishingly good Iran deal."

Beyond that, last weekend I linked to an article from Jeffrey Goldberg about what to look for in a potential deal. Here's how he ended:
On this issue, as on others, I will be listening to experts I respect. There are several, but three of the people I will be listening to carefully on this issue in particular are Gary Samore, formerly President Obama’s point man on the Iran nuclear file; David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, and Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the IAEA.
Due to this great thing called "the internet," we can see if those three people have had anything to say yet. Apparently they have. Here's Samore and Heinonen:
Those conditions impressed two of the most skeptical experts on the negotiations: Gary Samore and Olli Heinonen of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and members of a group called United Against Nuclear Iran.

Mr. Samore, who was Mr. Obama’s top adviser on weapons of mass destruction in his first term as president, said in an email that the deal was a “very satisfactory resolution of Fordo and Arak issues for the 15-year term” of the accord. He had more questions about operations at Natanz and said there was “much detail to be negotiated, but I think it’s enough to be called a political framework.”

Mr. Heinonen, the former chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said, “It appears to be a fairly comprehensive deal with most important parameters.”
David Albright is one of several experts cited in this McClatchy article by Jonathan Landay titled: Proposed Accord Far Tougher on Iran Than Expected, Experts Say, which basically affirms Max Fisher's conclusions.
On its face, the framework announced Thursday for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program goes further toward preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon than many experts expected it would, including requiring an international inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness.

Several contentious issues, however, remain to be clarified in the final accord, due to be negotiated by June 30. These include the exact process for lifting international sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy, and the degree to which ending the sanctions will hinge on the Islamic Republic’s clarifying past research it’s suspected of conducting on a missile-borne nuclear warheads.
So...overall what the experts are saying is that Iran gave up more than they expected - especially on inspections - and that the negotiations between now and June 30th will hinge on the pace of sanctions relief.

Consider yourself informed.

1 comment:

  1. The one thing I've noticed regarding Iran and commitments is that they have a tendency to give and take. A good start, but the process of verification will be argued again I would suspect.

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