Tuesday, April 07, 2015

THE NUCLEAR AGREEMENT WITH PERSIA: WHAT TO MAKE OF IT?

"FOR years Iran has lied about its nuclear plans. The Islamic Republic insists that it wants peace, but it has built secret, bomb-proof facilities for enriching uranium and, most outsiders conclude, begun work on designs for nuclear weapons. At the same time, it has spouted anti-Semitism and sponsored terrorists and militias in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. It is fighting directly or by proxy in Syria, Iraq and now Yemen, often supporting vicious sectarian clients. And yet, despite Iran’s transgressions, this week’s progress towards an agreement to limit its nuclear programme is still welcome. The declaration that emerged on April 2nd, after marathon negotiations between Iran and six world powers in Lausanne, was surprisingly comprehensive. Iran will curb its programme and open it to inspection in exchange for a gradual lifting of sanctions. Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama called it a good deal that will make the United States, its allies and the world safer. However, the details remain to be thrashed out by the end of June. The president warned that this process could still fail—and hardliners in both Tehran and Washington will do their damnedest to see that it does. Failure would be a grave loss. This agreement offers the best chance of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And it also offers the faint promise of leading the Middle East away from the violence that has been engulfing it. The best reason for wanting the next three months to produce a deal is that the alternatives are so unattractive. Military action to destroy Iran’s programme would have only a temporary effect. Air raids cannot annihilate know-how, but they would redouble the mullahs’ determination to get hold of a weapon, further radicalise Muslims, and add to the mayhem in a part of the world that is already in flames. Then there are sanctions. Some people, such as Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, argue that Iran is too malign to be left with anything but a symbolic ability to enrich uranium. He recommends redoubling sanctions and holding out until Iran is forced to concede to the world’s demands. But there is a contradiction here. On the one hand, Iran is so bent on destruction that it cannot be treated as a normal negotiating partner; on the other it is so pliant than more sanctions will make it give up a nuclear programme that it has defended, at great cost, for many years. Besides, waiting for Iran to make concessions does not have a good record. In 2003 the Bush administration ignored tentative Iranian signals that it was ready to talk. Since then, the mullahs have enhanced their expertise and increased their count of centrifuges from 164 to 19,000 or so. As Mr Obama argues, this second option very quickly leads back to either war or negotiations—and on worse terms. By contrast the deal that has comes out of Lausanne is at least attainable. Iran will cut its capacity to enrich by two-thirds compared with today for a minimum of ten years; it will radically shrink its stockpile of enriched uranium for a minimum of 15; and it will permanently cut off the route to a bomb placed on plutonium. Iran will also submit itself to intrusive inspections throughout the nuclear supply chain. In exchange, the outside world will lift economic sanctions and agree to Iran’s right to enrich uranium."
The Economist, "Negotiating with Iran: Is this a good deal?" 2 April 2015, in www.economist.com.
"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien."
Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique.
Monsieur Arouet's dictum is I believe the soundest way of looking at the results of the Persian nuclear talks that were announced last week. It is very much the case, that this agreement is not the very best from the Western perspective that could be hoped for. It is merely the case that this agreement, presuming that the details can indeed be negotiated in this next three months, does au fond provide the essential and needed safeguards concerning Persia's ability to quickly develop nuclear weapons undetected. Given the other voluminous & ongoing problems in the region at present, from the chaos in Libya to the ongoing war in Syria and the Sunni-ISIS insurrection in Iraq, with Yemen's problems added to the mix, the likelihood of a diplomatic settlement to Persia's quest for nuclear weapons can only be looked upon with favor. Unfortunately, none of the other options discussed in the British periodical, the Economist, makes any sense. A bombing campaign to stop and or derail Persia's nuclear ambitions would in the current Near and Middle East, be erste-klasse disaster. And heaping more sanctions on Persia, while perhaps effective in the long-run, will not necessarily result in either a quicker nor necessarily a better agreement in the medium to short term. Given both its economic exhaustion and its internal political difficulties, it is probably the case that the current agreement is the very best that Persia will agree to voluntarily. As the man who I regard as the leading American military expert, Anthony Cordesman cogently stated last week:
"The proposed parameters and framework in the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has the potential to meet every test in creating a valid agreement over time of the kind laid out earlier in the Burke Chair analysis circulated on March 30. It can block both an Iranian nuclear threat and a nuclear arms race in the region, and it is a powerful beginning to creating a full agreement, and creating the prospect for broader stability in other areas. Verification will take at least several years, but some form of trust may come with time. This proposal should not be a subject for partisan wrangling or outside political exploitation. It should be the subject of objective analysis of the agreement, our intelligence and future capabilities to detect Iran's actions, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) capabilities to verify, and enforcement provisions if Iran should cheat. No perfect agreement was ever possible and it is hard to believe a better option was negotiable. In fact, it may be a real victory for all sides: A better future for Iran, and greater security for the United States, its Arab partners, Israel, and all its other allies" 1.
In short to quote Fürst von Bismarck: 'politics is the art of the possible'.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "Verify and Trust May Come with Iran: The Parameters for the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. April 2015, in www.csis.org.