The deal reached Sunday between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) does not remove Iran’s nuclear threat. But it does relieve some of the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. As such, the agreement may pave the way for a nuclear-armed Iran, with the so-called “interim agreement” being nothing more than a speed bump along the way.
The agreement requires Iran to limit its nuclear enrichment, freeze most of its centrifuges for six months and halt construction on its plutonium reactor. In exchange, the U.S.-led coalition will roll back some of the sanctions on Iran, which will provide about $7 billion in relief.
Some Jewish groups have welcomed the agreement, with supporters asserting that Iran has now committed itself to serious restrictions. And they say Iran’s agreement to allow certain daily monitoring by international nuclear inspectors reflects Tehran’s willingness to open the window wider on its nuclear program.
What the agreement doesn’t do is shut down and dismantle Iran’s nuclear program, which was the stated objective of the international sanctions effort. It doesn’t remove the highly enriched uranium Iran already possesses — enough to make six-to-eight bombs, according to reports. And although Iran has agreed to dilute its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium (considered two steps short of weapons grade) to 5 percent, such a move is reversible. Meanwhile, under the agreement, Iran can continue to produce more 5 percent enriched uranium, thus adding to its stockpile.
Essentially, Iran has achieved her clear goal of relief from the crushing economic impact of international sanctions without committing to anything permanent in exchange. And while President Obama has argued that sanctions are like a spigot, whose pressure can be increased as well as decreased, the real-life applicability of the metaphor is questionable. It took years of hard work and persistence from players such as Israel to attract attention to the Iranian nuclear threat and to turn the situation into an issue of international concern. If things don’t work as hoped toward the further development of a meaningful agreement with Iran on the issues, there is no telling whether there will be enough political will to resume or increase sanctions once they have been abated. What is certain, however, is there will be a loss of momentum, and a significant diminution of political and economic pressure going into any effort to reach a final deal, which the parties have committed to achieve in six months.
Momentum is crucial here. For example, what will happen if Iran cheats? Or, what happens if Iran refuses to sign a final agreement? Answers to these questions certainly need to be spelled out. Israel is preparing herself based on the very real possibility that Sunday’s flawed agreement will become permanent. And there were reports this week that Israeli intelligence believes Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb within three months of deciding to do so.
Before the announcement of the interim agreement, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators committed to intensify sanctions on Iran after Thanksgiving. There’s no reason for them to change their plans. As we have noted in the past, the sanctions were put in place and were escalated in order to force Iran to give up her nuclear program, and to dismantle her developing nuclear capabilities. That remains the goal and needs to remain the focus. We continue to believe that continuing sanctions, and the real threat of further sanctions, are the best guarantee of staying the course until those goals are reached.