The Misrepresentation of the Iran P5+1 Nuclear Agreement
There are legitimate differences over the value and risks of the Iran P5+1 Nuclear Agreement. For example, one need not even read the agreement and simply argue that, given Iran’s past record of both duplicity and determination, no agreement with Iran, whatever it said, is worth anything. Certainly these types of agreements must be made between parties that have good reasons to distrust one another, but when one of the parties has established such an extraordinary record justifying the distrust of it, and since the structure of decision-making in Iran has not fundamentally changed even if a much less rhetorically rabid government is now in place, since the real issue of the capacity to make nuclear weapons and not the actual making of them is the central issue, and, finally, since the agreement ignores entirely the plight of those who are victimized by the Iranian government, whatever the specifications of the deal, the agreement is not worth making.
“I believe that the attitude should be mistrust and verify. All we have to do is listen to our allies who are most proximate to the threat in the region — Israel, the Gulf Arab allies that we have, who have been saying all along that any kind of deal with this regime and Iran is not worth the paper it’s written on.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
There is another reason to implacably oppose the deal. The goalposts have been set far too low. The issue is not limiting or even crippling Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon – as long as America cannot destroy the minds of Iranians, that capacity will remain intact when the issue is only the mechanics of making a nuclear weapon. And if mechanics can be the only point of agreement, then the mechanical capacity must be destroyed, not limited or even temporarily incapacitated. As Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, insisted, Iran must “irreversibly dismantle its nuclear stockpiles and not be allowed to continue enrichment.” Any agreement that permits Iran, in the short or long run, to continue enriching uranium is a fundamentally flawed agreement.
However, if you believe either proposition – the partner for the deal is unacceptable and/or the goals of the agreement are too limited – surely propositions that support either position must be examined by testing those propositions in the real world. Part of such a test surely should involve the degree to which the interim agreement supports or undermines such a position. That means that if one is unwilling to examine the details of the deal, and to do so accurately, you are willing to declare and hold your position while disregarding any evidence that may falsify it. An opponent of the agreement has three obligations: 1. to read the agreement with care; 2) to consider the degree allies distort or mis-report the contents of the agreement; and 3) to assess whether the implications drawn from the agreement are plausible and reasonable.
Distortions About the Interim Agreement
1. The UN Resolution Requirement
The agreement betrays the resolutions already passed by the UN Security Council entailed in the imposition of sanctions. In particular, UN Resolutions required that Iran stop enriching uranium.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ): “We’ve already ceded away from UN Security Council resolutions that say no enrichment….The UN Security Council resolutions call for ceasing enrichment.” CBS, Face the Nation 1 December 2013.
The UN resolution did NOT demand that Iran cease its enrichment program altogether. UN Res. 1696 of 31 July 2006 demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment program. Acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Council calls upon Iran to follow through with the requirements of the IAEA which would build confidence and resolve outstanding questions. Iran is required to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, to be verified by the IAEA. Clause 2 reads: “Demands, in this context, that Iran shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA.” The resolution insisted that guarantees be in place to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme is used exclusively for peaceful purposes, not that the program be dismantled.
The background discussions implied 6 months, sufficient time to start negotiations and put an inspection regime in place. NO UN resolution requires that Iran stop enriching uranium permanently. The phrase used is “suspend”; the implication is clear that Iran can resume enriching uranium provided that such enriched uranium is used and can only be used for peaceful purposes.
The agreement does permit Iran the right and the activity to enrich uranium to 5%; the UN resolution did not demand that Iran cease its enrichment program altogether.
2. Iran’s Nuclear Program – Freeze or Reduction
The Interim Agreement only requires Iran to freeze its nuclear program. This claim has been made not only by opponents of the deal but by reports of the views of strong supporters. For example, the headline on a press release of the Americans for Peace Now (23.11.13) stated: “APN Welcomes Agreement to Freeze Iran’s Nuclear Program”. An article by Michael Gordon in The Globe and Mail (24.11.13) read: “Iran’s nuclear program frozen”.
The Agreement does require a number of elements in the program just to be frozen:
- Centrifuges – no new ones installed
– no additional ones prepared for installation
– advanced IR-2 centrifuges will not be made operable
– 50% of the centrifuges at Natanz will be left inoperable
– 75% at Fordow will be left inoperable
[It is assumed that these two percentages are roughly the numbers now not operating]
- Enrichment Facilities – no new ones will be developed
- Nuclear Reprocessing Facilities – no new ones developed
- Fuel – no new fuel will be produced, tested or transferred to the Arak nuclear facility
– no new enriched uranium at 3.5% will be produced.
The Agreement also provides that a number of elements in the program be rolled back or, at least, exposed to inspection
- All uranium enriched beyond 5% will either be diluted or converted to uranium oxide
- Transparency – Iran will share plans of its Arak reactor
– IAEA will be permitted daily access to both the Natanz and the Fordow reactor in addition to 24 hr. camera monitors
– IAEA is specifically given the right of daily access to both Natanz and Fortow
– Iran will address (though not necessarily answer) the IAEA
request for information on the military dimensions of the nuclear program
– IAEA will be allowed access to Iran’s uranium mines and centrifuge production facilities
Areas Where Neither Freeze nor Rollback
- continued construction of the Arak power plant
3. Sanctions Relief
Critics accuse the negotiators of giving Iran relief from sanctions. Yes and No.
Yuval Steinitz. Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, claimed that Iran would be getting sanctions relief worth up to US$40 billion based insider knowledge from Israeli intelligence gathering on Iran.
Iran gained relief because the sanctions regime would not be expanded. Efforts to stop additional oil sales would cease.
Iran received about US$7 billion in relief, to be paid over six months, by being allowed to get monies owed to Iran, largely the US$5.3 billion owed by Indian oil importers before access to international backing transactions with Iran were cut. The redemption of these amounts owed to Iran could only be used for humanitarian relief and for payment of fees of Iranian students living abroad.
In some areas unrelated to the nuclear program directly, sanctions would be suspended:
- on associated insurance and transportation services
- on Iran’s petrochemical exports and associated services
- on gold and precious metals and associated service
- on Iran’s auto industry and associated services.
- on the licensing of the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for flight safety for Iranian civil aviation and associated services.
Otherwise the architecture of sanctions and their remain in place.
4. Weighing the Benefits
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of North Carolina: “We had the chance to deliver a body blow,” but we let Iran off the hook.
The assertion implies that the sanctions, if allowed to continue and even expand, could have brought Iran to its knees until Iran called “Uncle!” Alternatively, if Iran did not give in, the sanctions could have been followed by an attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. It implies that, if allowed to run their course and even expand further, sanctions would have forced Iranian capitulation and even humiliation.
There is little historical evidence to support such a contention and much evidence to contradict it, but whatever the consequential calculation, an accurate interpretation of the interim agreement is required.
5. Imbalance of the Deal
The world is giving up so much while Iran gives up nothing. Yuval Steinitz: “the Iranians are giving nothing and getting so much.”
The Iranians are giving quite a bit and far from enough, but this is just an interim agreement. The world is gaining significantly in transparency, getting a freeze and even a rollback on enriched uranium and giving up some areas of sanctions with little to do with the nuclear program.
Iran gains stature as an international player.
Iran’s regional power aspirations remain undiminished and probably strengthened.
There is no relief for the persecuted within Iran.
These as well as the trust willing to be accorded to Iran and greater ambitions required of any agreement are the core of any disagreement. But they do not justify misrepresentation. In fact, deliberate distortion only undermines the propositions supporting extreme distrust and a more ambitious strategy for they lead one to believe that the critics are merely fabulists.