Thinking About the Agreement With Iran

I still don’t know what to make of the incipient agreement among Iran, the United States, and remainder of the so-called “P5+1”. It seems me that the reactions, especially the exaggerated reactions in either direction, depend strongly on your assumptions and notions of risk and reward.

As I understand the agreement, Iran has agreed to suspend enriching uranium beyond 5%, LEU, and grant additional access to international inspector in exchange, in effect, for a relatively small amount of money, something like $16 billion dollars. One way I’ve heard the deal described is that the Iranians have agreed to delay their “breakout” capability by about a month in exchange for about five weeks of oil revenues.

The Iranians have not agreed to comply with any of the many United Nations Security Council resolutions respecting their nuclear development or long-range missile programs, they have not agreed to grant inspectors complete unrestricted access, and, judging by the statements from the Iranian regime since the agreement was announced, it’s not the first step towards any sort of detente. We have not agreed to lift sanctions against them.

This is where the assumptions come in. If you assume that the Iranians are completely forthcoming, have no intention of producing a nuclear weapon, and even if they had one don’t threaten us, it’s a good deal. They’re giving not much, we’re giving not much, it kicks the can down the road a bit, and it might be better there.

If you assume that the Iranians are lying, are actively producing a nuclear weapon, we don’t know where all of their nuclear weapons development facilities are, and possession of a nuclear weapon by the present Iranian regime would be very, very bad, it’s a bad deal. They’ll keep right on developing and be that much closer to having their nuclear weapon and we’ve taken the heat off them for a while.

I try not to make assumptions but I do draw conclusions. There is no reason for the Iranian regime to have the very large number of centrifuges in their possession other than to make highly-enriched uranium. There are no peaceful uses of highly-enriched uranium. The most benign explanation I can think of for the Iranians’ actions is that they want us and the Iranian people to believe that they’re developing nuclear weapons, somewhat as Saddam Hussein wanted us to believe that he had large stockpiles of chemical and bacteriological weapons.

I also think the present Iranian regime’s possession of nuclear weapons would not be a good thing. On this I’m in pretty good company since the last three American presidential administrations have all believed the same thing. I consider that a conclusion rather than an assumption. At the very least it would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and, honestly, I don’t believe all of the regimes there are stable enough or have the civil infrastructure necessary to secure whatever nuclear weapons they might come to possess.

What do I make, then, of the statements by the Iranian regime that they would never produce nuclear weapons? I can only come up with three explanations. Either they’re engaging in gamesmanship along the lines of the “benign explanation” above, they’re equivocating, or not everybody in the Iranian regime is in agreement on the issue. None of those strike me as particularly cheering.

So, as I say, I don’t know what to make of the agreement.


This analysis, at The National Interest, strikes me as pretty fair.

18 comments… add one
  • TimH

    Frankly, if Iran decides to pursue a nuclear weapon, it is a matter of years before they get one. It may be 5 years one way, or 15 years with draconian sanctions, but they will get one either way. The P5+1 negotiators have to realize this; once Iran has a bomb, all leverage is gone.

    Also, all politics are local (internal). The hard line has been able to use the West’s actions on this issue to gain support, and the nuclear program has become one of national pride.

    Without a nuclear weapon, Iran is a somewhat dangerous state that is probably too hard for the US to invade at a political cost we’re willing to bear. With a nuclear weapon, that calculus doesn’t change. Unlike say, NK, I can’t see Iran rushing to use a nuke, even if available.

    So to me, the real question is whether we work towards a more engaged position with Iran (and in a stable enough way that it becomes regime-independent), or whether we disengage and hope by some miracle that Iran goes away.

  • ...

    Schuler, you’ve got an odd opinion about what constitutes good company.

  • Red Barchetta

    I’ve been waiting for this post. True to my previous comments, I know what I don’t know, but this seems correct:

    “There is no reason for the Iranian regime to have the very large number of centrifuges in their possession other than to make highly-enriched uranium.”

    So………..WTF?? Israel may have been left out in the cold and have no options other than the obvious for what? Obama changing the subject? Searching for a legacy? What gives, er, uh, “folks?”

  • TastyBits

    Unless Israel has acquired the ability to make the return flight, Israel ain’t gonna go to war.

    Other than protecting the Strait of Hormuz, the US ain’t gonna go to war.

    If a nuclear Iran is a problem, a nuclear Pakistan is a catastrophe. The most likely use of nuclear weapons is between India and Pakistan.

  • TastyBits

    @Dave Schuler

    … The most benign explanation I can think of for the Iranians’ actions is that they want us and the Iranian people to believe that they’re developing nuclear weapons, somewhat as Saddam Hussein wanted us to believe that he had large stockpiles of chemical and bacteriological weapons.

    “The smartest people in the whole, wide world” have assured me that the Iranians are producing nuclear weapons, and unless the have shit for brains, they must be right this time.

  • steve

    I think this is an agreement to work on an agreement. Given that nothing at all had been happening, this strikes me as a good thing. The details will matter. I think we should make a good deal for us. I dont care that much about Israel anymore. We should tell Netanyahu to go f*ck himself. I am tired of someone from some tiny country that never fights alongside our troops dictating our foreign policy so that he can stay in office.


  • Red Barchetta

    That’s an interesting comment, steve. They stay out for obvious reasons. What would be your reaction to a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran?

    BTW – as a guy who negotiates for a living, I’m unimpressed with a deal to make deal later. That’s called masturbation. But you all know me by now, let’s just get it on.

  • Red Barchetta

    This is for ice. I hope he sees it. Just turn it up to “eleven.” (Heh) Wake up and live again. Defeatism isn’t good.

  • ...

    Red, looks like Israeli jets won’t have to make the return flight, as it appears the Saudis may actually decide to work with the Israelis and allow some Saudi bases to be used for a strike. So go the rumors, anyway.

    I don’t see the point in this deal, however. I don’t see where it really advances anything for us, and the Iranians seem to get a fair amount out of it. Schuler has been looking at US federal budget numbers too long if he thinks $16,000,000,000,000 isn’t all that big a sum. That’s about 3.3% of Iran’s GDP. An equivalent US number would be roughly$520 billion. I’m sure we’d take it if someone would give us that for a six month pause in pretty much anything but eating, breathing, sleeping or bathing. (At least I hope we would skip it for bathing.)

    Mostly, I’m where I’ve been on this. If we couldn’t stop shitholes like North Korea and Pakistan from getting The Bomb, I doubt we’ll be able to stop Iran. The question is, Can we contain them? And that we just won’t know until sometime later.

    There are follow-up questions, such as, What to do when the Saudis start buying bombs from Pakistan? But really, I don’t think the commenters here are going to come up with any good answers, and I am certain the cretins running the nation’s foreign policy won’t be able to some up with anything. Hell, they can’t defend their own embassies, who can expect them to defend a nation?

  • Andy

    The pundit reactions are predictable and a bit depressing. Overall I think it’s a good deal. Both sides take reversible steps and this is mostly a confidence building measure. There are some big pluses for the West though. We’ll get a look at activities and places we’ve been denied in the past, which will give us more information regarding Iranian capabilities. It also halts Iran’s progress – absent a deal, Iran would still be enriching and installing centrifuges.

    These kinds of interim agreements are fairly normal in international relations, but I think a final agreement will need to be concluded quickly. If it sits too long, those opposed to any deal will eventually kill it and make a final deal more difficult.

    There is no reason for the Iranian regime to have the very large number of centrifuges in their possession other than to make highly-enriched uranium.

    Technically, it depends. Iran doesn’t really have all that many centrifuges considering how primitive their designs are. For example, a single modern US centrifuge can perform the same work as 350 first generation Iranian centrifuges.

    The site at Natanz has room for 50,000 centrifuges. If Iran had 50k of its first generation centrifuges setup and running, the facility would only be able to produce enough fuel for a small power reactor. I would have to research the current statistics, but when I last looked at this there were about 12k 1st generation centrifuges at Natanz but only a portion of those were actually enriching.

    Iran does have smaller numbers of of 2nd generation centrifuge which are about 4 times more efficient, but Iran hasn’t been able to get them to work consistently and is reliant on foreign supplies for the materials to construct them.

    In short, Iran has a long way to go before it is able to enrich and manufacture fuel to keep a single power reactor running.

  • I don’t see the point in this deal, however. I don’t see where it really advances anything for us

    When you think of the agreement in terms of upside gain and downside risk, it’s even more puzzling. What’s the upside gain of the agreement that’s been reached? What’s the downside risk of rejecting the agreement?

    Is there any other way the agreement makes any sense whatever than to assume that a) the Iranians do pose a threat and b) that they will be completely forthcoming?

  • TastyBits


    I would doubt the Saudis would allow Israel to use their air bases. If Al Qaeda is pissed about US presence in Saudi Arabia, they are not going to be happy about an Israeli presence. It would also be an admission that the Israelis are superior to the Arabs, militarily.

    If Israel could strike Iran militarily, they would have some time back When Iran goes nuclear, Israel will be able to say they did everything they could to prevent it, and then, they will live with it.

    Saudi Arabia can have nuclear weapons anytime they desire. They can get nukes overnighted from Pakistan.

  • Hello Dave,
    Iran has now announced that they’re going to keep construction going at Arak (which has no peaceful application), and it’s been revealed that President Obama has steadily relaxed sanctions for the last six months.

    And Iran has already negotiated a three month window from the IAEA on any inspections, with only specific facilities are included ( not including Parchin, where the IAEA previously found evidence of what appeared to be weapons testing and not their secret facility at Neyboushar, among others).

    As of last Monday, the Iranians themselves have announced that the agreement isn’t final yet as well as major disagreements with the West’s version of what was agreed to, after they received the cash and after President Obama made his special Saturday announcement to tout what a great deal this was. At least Neville Chamberlain actually got an agreement to wave in the air, even if it was worthless.

    Does that clarify the matter? Our president was played like a mountain fiddle, and in spite of all his rhetoric could care less whether Iran goes nuclear. He wanted a ‘deal’ to distract from his domestic fiascos.

    Iran received everything and has given virtually nothing.

    FWIW, I might also point out that:

    5% enrichment is almost 60% of the way towards weapons grade.

    Nuclear enrichment is not necessary for a nuclear energy program or medical uses. Ask Canada.

    The Iranians have consistently lied about their nuclear program. There is absolutely no reason to trust them now, or take a chance on their good behavior. We will have no way of knowing how much of their 20% uranium (90% of the way towards weapons grade, with breakout only a few weeks away) they will hide and/or enrich to weapons grade secretly.

    We have thrown a lifeline to an evil regime that brutalizes its own people, is one of the premier sponsors of Islamic terrorism in the world, and were directly complicit in 9/11.

    Oh, one more thing. The Saudis and the Israelis have had a number of back channel arrangements going for sometime, ever since Barack Hussein Obama and his team showed what clueless and destructive amateurs they are. remember th eold Middle East dictum, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ ?

    The IAF doesn’t need to actually land in KSA, they have adequate midair refueling. They’ve already made longer runs than that, taking out weapons convoys in Sudan and doing training flights near Greece in the Aegean. All the Saudis need do wink and agree to allow the IAF overflight. And if the Israelis actually need to land and refuel, there’s Azerbaijan, a country the Israelis have excellent ties with and have made major arms sales to. And the Israelis also have the capacity to use their nuclear subs, their drones and their own ballistic missiles as well as IAF planes.

    An Israeli strike is definitely possible, although it would have been easier 2 or 3 years ago.Obama has maneuvered them into a position where if they do hit Iran, they will be demonized for defending themselves from an existential threat. For that, I blame Netanyahu,who allowed himself to be threatened/ convinced to wait.

    I doubt the Israelis are going to depend on the Ayatollah’s good behavior, even if it costs them ‘good will’ from countries that wouldn’t particularly care if they were annihilated and distances them significantly from the US..which is undoubtedly what President Obama intended all along.

  • I made a number of those very points in later posts on the subject myself, Rob. One of the sticking points for me on the agreement (which does not appear to be a lot more than a joint press release, binding neither party to anything) is that under it the Iranians can keep working on Arak. That strikes me as a problem.

    And, of course, as I’ve mentioned any number of times, the preponderance of the evidence leads one at the very least to the conclusion that the Iranians want us and the Iranian people to believe they’re building a nuclear weapon. The more likely conclusion IMO is that they are building a nuclear weapon.

  • Iran received everything and has given virtually nothing.

    That’s certainly the way the Iranians see it.

  • Dave, I concur.

    Moreover, let’s keep in mind that this is the context under which we’ve operated with this poisonous regime since they got away with doing what no other country has ever done to America – storming one of our embassies and taking our diplomats hostage.

    Also, the Obama Administration has, in accordance with Iran’s demands, caved on Arak totally according to the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. Basically, our Dear Leader has now said that to all intents and purposes he’s fine with Iraq having nuclear weapons. And in view of his prior statements that Iran will face no U.S. retaliation if they hit Israel as long as no U.S. installations are attacked, the subtext of this is pretty easy to read.

    I read the post you mentioned, and it was a good one. The answer to your question about who’s kidding whom? President Obama is ‘kidding’ AKA simply lying, once again to the American people. Because he knows that most of them understand that appeasing Iran is a stupid move. And because America’s security isn’t as important to him as his own personal agenda and his political fortunes.

    Churchill’s remark about Chamberlain’s government comes to mind: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”

    Or as Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev put it the other day, talking to Jake Tapper at CNN: “The Iranians are building intercontinental ballistic missiles. They’re not building them for us. They already have missiles that can hit Israel. They are building them for you.”

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