Nuclear Deal with Iran

November 24, 2013

Late last night, an interim nuclear deal was signed between the P5+1 (US, Britain, Russia, China and France, plus Germany) and Iran. The build-up to it, and now the announcement, has been met with polar opinions. Some claim Iran has deceived the West, falsely claiming they never intended a nuclear weapon capability (just nuclear power), cleverly buying time without much conceded, and that Iran will determinedly continue to use any means to develop nuclear weapon capability. They argue that while Ahmadinajed was clearly a threat to world order, Iran is simply putting forward Rouhani (a wolf in sheeps clothing) to try an opposite end-run.

Others feel this deal is a major positive development in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and the world, and has strong potential to result in resolution of the Iranian nuclear threat in six months when the target date is reached for full resolution.

An opinion highly critical of the deal comes from the respected political commentator Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Washington Post on November 21, “Sucker’s Deal.” His argument makes sense, as does most of what Krauthammer says: Sanctions have brought Iran to the table, but what Iran concedes in the interim deal is little (as it relates to ultimate nuclear capability) and it would be far more effective to just double down with more sanctions until they concede every element of nuclear weapon capability–now–do not trust them to keep their word, and definitely do not give them an extra six months with relaxed sanctions.

An opposite view comes from Fareed Zakaria, in his “GPS” program of today. His best argument is that sanctions imposed on Iran across the last decade have done little to stymie the nation’s nuclear development. The number of centrifuges to process nuclear material has grown from 164 in 2003 to 19,000 today, as more and more sanctions have been imposed. Zakaria asks, “what would have happened without a deal?”

As an aside before continuing, wouldn’t it be great if all Americans, all world citizens, could take a little time and examine the issues and take a stand on such major world issues as this? Wouldn’t that make democracy and world governance work better? Our American legislators are supposed to be responsive to our wishes, but too often we don’t take the time to develop and express opinions clearly and thus, legislators are left to operate on their own prejudices and convictions or to hedge. Former Senators Scott Brown and Evan Bayh were interviewed this morning on TV, and honestly, while they are very competent politicians, I felt they both hedged their positions–seemingly to accommodate the supporters of Israel’s concerns, stated well by Krauthammer.

And this is one where the outcome can perhaps be judged in a relatively short period of time–six months, unlike the matter of climate change or world population growth. So, it will be an interesting test–like betting on the winner of the Superbowl, something many Americans take the time to understand and predict–but far more important to the world.

In setting about to take a stand, it’s best to start by recognizing the existence of biases. No one can be free of them entirely, even with the best of intentions toward objectivity.  There are those of understandable sympathy to the state of Israel, a tiny nation surrounded by threats to its existence. There are those who are hawks and have a bias in favor of use of force to resolve such matters.

And, there are those among whom I fall, who feel too much life, opportunity, and prosperity has been lost to war in recent decades and that we need to make every effort to avoid it. I do recognize that the hawks would claim that force of sanctions or threat of military attack is the best way to achieve peace, but I do not hold with that–at least not in most cases.

To illustrate the element of bias and also the difficulty of reaching an opinion on matters such as this, consider how Krauthammer and Zakaria each describe what the deal concedes in the way of sanctions during this interim period. Krauthammer: “It widens permissible trade in oil, gold and auto parts. It releases frozen Iranian assets, increasing Iran’s foreign-exchange reserves by 25 percent while doubling its fully accessible foreign-exchange reserves. Such a massive infusion of cash would be a godsend for its staggering economy, lowering inflation, reducing shortages and halting the country’s growing demoralization. The prospective deal is already changing economic expectations. Foreign oil and other interests are reportedly preparing to reopen negotiations for a resumption of trade in anticipation of the full lifting of sanctions.” Zakaria: “In return, Iran gets about $7 billion of sanctions relief, a fraction of what is in place against it. The main sanctions – against its oil and banking sectors – stay fully in place.”

Similarly, they express polar opposite views on their individual interpretation of what Iran has conceded for the interim in regard to uranium enrichment.

My sympathy is with the Zakaria opinion–sanctions have not worked, threats have not worked, and it’s wise to give an entirely different approach a solid try. This is essentially the major contribution (in my opinion) of the Obama Presidency–that he has assiduously avoided actions which would prolong our existing wars or expose us to engagement in other wars. Relatively little has been conceded in the sanctions for the interim deal–only about $7 billion in frozen assets, while the sanctions on trade privileges, far more damaging to Iran, remain in place until we reach the full deal in six months.

The best tally of gain or exposure in the deal would involve reading the agreement and then researching key elements–e.g., what sanctions remain in place, and what limits on enrichment have been conceded and what rights retained.  I have not done that yet, but will set about to do so.

Because there is significant opposition to the negotiated approach in the American Congress, interim sanctions relief could only be limited–what the President alone is empowered to authorize. Most of it requires the approval of Congress, suggesting that this concession is indeed modest–Iran will need and want far more to achieve their goal of economic freedom and renewed economic growth.

We now have Iranian approval to daily inspection by IAEA personnel. It is highly unlikely that any hidden enrichment facilities can be sustained with all the inspections and all the eyes of the world on Iran.

More on this major world event, as the details and opinions unfold.

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