Wall Street Journal on July 14, 2015, editorialized on President Obama’s claim that the Iran deal was historic. Excerpts below:
It is historic. The agreement all but guarantees that Tehran will eventually become a nuclear power, while limiting the ability of a future President to prevent it.
We say this after reading the 159-page text, complete with five annexes, which offers a clearer view than the President’s broad and happy description. “We give up nothing by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully,” Mr. Obama said. “If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options will be available to me today will be available to any U.S. President in the future.”
The President’s case is that the deal effectively rents Iran’s nuclear compliance for 15 years—longer than anticipated by April’s framework.
As for inspections, Iran has promised to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allows watchdogs from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater licence to monitor nuclear sites.
Iran has also agreed to buy its nuclear-related material through a monitored procurement channel; as recently as January it was caught trying to procure dual-use technologies in the Czech Republic.
Iran has also promised to answer the IAEA’s questions about the military dimensions of its past nuclear work, though the answers won’t be forthcoming until December. “The IAEA will have access where necessary, when necessary,” Mr. Obama promised. “That arrangement is permanent.” In exchange Iran gets sanctions relief that Mr. Obama promises can “snap back into place” if Iran violates the deal.
The reality is far more complicated and favorable to the Iranians, which explains the celebrations at high levels in Tehran.
Start with the inspections. Contrary to Mr. Obama, the IAEA’s enhanced monitoring isn’t permanent but limited to between 15 and 25 years depending on the process. Also contrary to his “where necessary, when necessary” claim, inspectors will only be allowed to ask permission of the Iranians to inspect suspected sites, and “such requests will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities.”
If Iran objects, as it will, “the Agency may request access” (our emphasis), and Iran can propose “alternative arrangements” to address the concerns. If that fails, as it will, the dispute gets kicked upstairs, first to a “Joint Commission,” then to a Ministerial review, then to an “Advisory Board,” then to the U.N. Security Council—with each stop on the bureaucratic road taking weeks or months.
This is far worse than the U.S.-Soviet arms agreements, in which the U.S. could protest directly to Moscow. Iran now has an international bureaucratic guard to deflect and deter U.S. or IAEA concerns.
The deal places sharp limits on Iran’s current use of first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. But it allows hundreds of those centrifuges to remain in the heavily defended Fordo facility, where they are supposed to remain idle but could be reactivated at the flick of a switch.
All of this assumes that Iran will honor its commitments, notwithstanding its long record of cheating. Mr. Obama’s answer here is that he or his successor can reimpose sanctions, but that will be a tough sell once sanctions relief kicks in over 12 to 16 months and a pro-Iran commercial lobby resurfaces in Europe, China and Russia. A committee of the eight signatories would have to vote to restore sanctions. “Snap-back” is a mirage.
Perhaps most dismaying is that this nuclear deal also lifts sanctions on Iran’s conventional weapons’ trade in five years, and ballistic missiles in eight.
The U.S. appears to have caved on this point at the last minute after ultimatums from Tehran. This will be especially upsetting to our regional allies, which will have to cope with a newly empowered Iran flush with cash from sanctions relief.
All of this means that the deal leaves Tehran as a nuclear-threshold state even if it adheres to the terms, able to continue its nuclear research and retain its facilities while it waits for U.N. supervision to end.
Instead of eliminating a revolutionary regime’s nuclear ambitions, the Vienna accord promises to usher in a new age of nuclear proliferation.