As world powers meeting in Vienna gave themselves another week to conclude a momentous nuclear deal with Iran, observers here were split on whether they would succeed by next Tuesday’s supposedly final deadline.
“It is likely they will reach a deal in early July — within the next week or so – a comprehensive deal,” said Matthew Kroenig, an associate professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
“If they get a deal and Iran abides by it, Iran will not be able to build nuclear weapons,” he said. “This deal would cap Iran’s [uranium] enriching program and force Iran to redo its plutonium reactor at Arak.”
But Robert Einhorn, a former special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department during the Obama administration, said he is “skeptical” a deal would be reached.
He cited last week’s speech by the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, in which he called for an immediate end to all economic and diplomatic sanctions on his country by the U.S. and the United Nations. He also proclaimed that no Iranian military sites would be subject to international inspections, and he insisted that Iran would never agree to a long-term freeze on nuclear research.
In a draft agreement announced in April, Iran had agreed to those terms.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is heading the U.S. negotiating team, reportedly told the Iranians that the world powers are holding firm on the draft agreement and would not agree to backing off from it.
The world powers involved in the talks are the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
The main differences reportedly now being negotiated involve the timing of sanctions relief for Iran in return for curbing its nuclear program – Iran wants immediate relief on signing — and the nature of the monitoring mechanisms to ensure Tehran does not cheat on any agreement.
In a conference call Monday with the Endowment for Middle East Truth, Kroenig, who is also a senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at The Atlantic Council, noted that the Obama administration has said there would be “intrusive inspections” and monitoring of Iran to ensure its compliance with the agreement.
Although it would be a 10-year agreement, Kroenig said “the administration says it can maintain pressure after 10 years” by “snapping back sanctions” on Iran that are due to be lifted or eased with the agreement’s ratification.
“At the end of the day, the U.S. still has a military option 10 years from now,” he observed, referring to a U.S. military strike on Iran’s nuclear construction facilities.
“My contacts in the administration say it would be better if there was no [uranium] enrichment [by Iran as part of the agreement], but this deal is better than war,” Kroenig added.
Nevertheless, he said, “It was a mistake to go back on the zero enrichment demand. … [because] scientists understand that fuel can be produced for peace or war. … The U.S. says [such a deal] is better than the alternatives, but I think there is a better way forward — give Iran a choice. It can have a peaceful nuclear program in which it would ship [spent fuel] rods to another country in return for sanctions relief, or we would increase sanctions and set clear military red lines” on its nuclear program.
Kroenig said he does not believe “snap back sanctions” would work, and noted that Iran is developing an intercontinental ballistic missile “whose only purpose is to deliver a nuclear warhead.”
Kroenig was also critical of the U.S. decision to negotiate Iran’s nuclear program in a vacuum, ignoring its human rights abuses at home and record of supporting and fomenting terrorism worldwide.
Einhorn told The Jewish Week that he can “only speculate” on the motives of the ayatollah for making his speech last week.
“One explanation is that he said it for bargaining leverage in the hope the Iranians will get a somewhat better deal – but that assumes they are prepared to fall back to what they had essentially agreed to.
“Another explanation is that he is being a domestic critic and he will retreat. And a third explanation is that he has decided to redraw the red lines and take an uncompromising position on critical issues. If that is the explanation, I think Iran will be responsible for sabotaging the agreement because I don’t see anyway the U.S. could abide by the supreme leader’s unreasonable red lines.”
Einhorn is one of 18 prominent American security advisers – including five former Obama administration officials – who signed a letter last week detailing what the Iranian nuclear deal must include. Otherwise, they said, it would “fall short of meeting the administration's own standard of a 'good' agreement.’"
Among the other signatories were Dennis Ross, a former Obama adviser on Iran and the Middle East; David Petraeus, former CIA director and U.S. commander in Iraq; retired U.S. General James Cartwright, and David Makovsky, who had been part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East negotiating team. The letter was Makovsky’s idea.
“My dream was to get a bipartisan panel close to the Obama team on Iran to come forward with a clear yardstick of how to measure it [an agreement],” he told The Jewish Week. “What we tried to do was to take consensus issues and say these are the standards by which to judge the agreement. Then you can compare what is versus what should be and assess it.”
Among the minimal conditions the experts said are needed in the agreement are timely access to any sites in Iran: an investigation of nuclear weaponization activities; strict limits on advanced centrifuge research; and sanctions relief based on Iran’s performance of its obligations, which would be restored if it cheats.