Seven questions about the emerging Iran nuclear deal

By Miles A. Pomper – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.S. Congress tonight to warn about a pending deal between Iran and six other countries, including the United States; meanwhile the negotiations are kicking into high gear as the countries struggle to complete a framework agreement before the end of the month. The high-stakes drama, however, has obscured some of the key questions that the administration should have to answer if it wants to win congressional and regional support for any pact. Below are seven key questions:

 1.       INCREASED TRANSPARENCY: How much increased transparency will we see as a result of the deal and how soon will we see it? Press commentary has tended to focus on “breakout time”—the timeframe in which Iran could use its declared nuclear facilities to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. But the Iranians would more likely to use a clandestine path to the bomb or “sneakout.” Early ratification and implementation by Iran of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement that gives inspectors broadened rights to root out such facilities is essential. However, these are insufficient and other transparency measures are needed to ensure Iran does not develop a parallel nuclear weapons program.

 2.       NONCOMPLIANCE: What mechanisms will the United States and the international community could utilize in response if Iran does not comply with the agreement and what would constitute substantive noncompliance? With the recent interim agreement and other pacts, Iran has shown a tendency to abide by the letter, but not the spirit, of the law. Iran can be expected to nibble at the edges of any deal, testing how far they can go before being pushed back. What is the administration game plan for addressing such tests?

 3.       IRAN’S NEW LEVERAGE: Similarly Iran’s threshold nuclear weapon status will give it leverage in regional crisis. Imagine a standoff between Israel and a regional player such as Hezbollah or Syria in which Israel is threatening to respond with military force. How will the United States respond if Iran makes noises about undermining the nuclear deal in response?

 4.       PREVENTING A REGIONAL VIRTUAL ARMS RACE: Under the emerging agreement, Iran would be kept to lower levels of enrichment for a decade and then slowly begin to expand its capacity with no limits after 15 years. How does the administration plan to stop other regional powers like Saudi Arabia from developing similar capabilities?

 5.       PREVENTING THE GLOBAL SPREAD OF ENRICHMENT CAPABILITY: By endorsing the enrichment capability of a longtime foe, the administration will find it more difficult to prevent allies such as South Korea from seeking their own enrichment capability, potentially complicating other regional crises and undermining the nonproliferation regime. How does the administration plan to prevent such a development?

 6.       REIMPOSING INTERNATIONAL SANCTIONS: Given opposition in Congress, the Obama administration has indicated that under a deal it would wait a number of years to permanently lift any U.S. sanctions, even if it temporarily suspended some. However, U.N. and other international sanctions, once lifted, may not be reinstated so easily. What kind of diplomatic measures will the administration negotiate to ensure such sanctions could be re-imposed quickly if Iran fails to comply with the agreement.

 7.       WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE AGREEMENT ENDS: Once the 15 year timeframe of the agreement ends, Iran will be able to develop an industrial –scale enrichment capability where breakout scenarios will become more plausible and also open new avenues for sneakout. The deal, in essence is a gamble that if Iran’s Islamic regime is integrated more fully into the global community, either the regime will not feel the need for nuclear weapons to preserve its security or generational change will undermine the regime. But what if neither of these scenarios pan out? How would the United States keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability then?