How to strengthen the interim Iran deal


By Orde F. Kittrie – While US Secretary of State John Kerry pushes back hard against Senate threats to pass a new Iran sanctions bill, his negotiators are hopefully using that same Senate threat to extract a better deal from Tehran.
































Press reports make it clear that the interim deal will bring Iran into compliance with none of its key international legal obligations as spelled out in applicable Security Council resolutions.  These resolutions explicitly require Iran to verifiably: “suspend” all enrichment-related activities; “suspend” work on “all heavy water-related projects” including the construction of the Arak heavy water reactor; “provide such access and cooperation as the IAEA requests” to resolve IAEA concerns about Iran’s research into nuclear weapons design; and “not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” 


It was unrealistic to think that an interim deal would bring Iran into compliance with all of its key preexisting legal obligations.  But it seems surprising that Iran is to receive billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for compliance with none of them.


As President Obama said at a press conference, the goal of “this short-term, phase-one deal” is to be “absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing their program.”  Unfortunately, the draft interim deal, as described in press reports, also falls far short of what the President set as the goal of this phase-one deal.


If the interim deal is to meet President Obama’s declared objective for it, it must include stronger provisions relating to enrichment, Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak, and Iran’s research into nuclear weapons design.


With regard to enrichment, if the interim agreement is to make “absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing their program,” it should include the following provisions additional to those reportedly included in the draft interim agreement: halt all Iranian enrichment; verifiably prohibit Iran from manufacturing additional centrifuges; require Iran to adhere to the Additional Protocol; and require Iran to accept and immediately and verifiably implement its existing legal obligation to notify the IAEA of any enrichment or other nuclear facility it possesses or begins constructing.


The draft interim agreement reportedly fails to require Iran to suspend enrichment of uranium to 3.5 percent.  It also reportedly places no constraints on Iran’s continued manufacturing of centrifuges.  


The draft interim agreement would thus enable Iran to, at the end of the six month interim agreement period, possess both a larger stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent and a larger number of manufactured centrifuges than it does today.  These advances would put Iran in position to much more quickly produce far more weapons grade uranium than it can today. Tehran would be significantly closer to the point at which it is able to dash to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb so quickly that the IAEA or a Western intelligence service would be unable to detect the dash until it is over.  


Nor, according to press reports, does the draft interim agreement ensure, or even enhance, Western or IAEA ability to detect any covert Iranian enrichment facilities.  Estimates of Iran’s proximity to undetectable breakout assume that Iran only has the capacity to enrich uranium in its known sites at Natanz and Fordow, both of which were built by Iran in secret.


The IAEA says Iran has a legal obligation, under modified Code 3.1 of the IAEA-Iran safeguards agreement, to notify the IAEA if Iran begins construction of a nuclear facility, including an enrichment facility.   Iran is refusing to comply.  An interim agreement should commit Iran to notifying the IAEA of any nuclear facility it begins or possesses.  


Iranian adherence to the Additional Protocol would further decrease the risk of a covert Iranian enrichment facility by enhancing the IAEA’s ability to detect and inspect any such covert facilities.  The November 2013 IAEA report emphasizes that the IAEA “will not be in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran unless and until Iran provides the necessary cooperation with the Agency, including by implementing its Additional Protocol.”


Similarly dangerous gaps are present in the draft interim deal’s handling of Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak and Iran’s research into nuclear weapons design.


The draft interim deal reportedly includes Iran continuing construction of its heavy water reactor at Arak, while committing to not bring it online for the duration of the six month interim deal period. By continuing construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, even with a commitment not to produce additional fuel assemblies for six months, Iran will continue to advance towards creating plutonium.  A senior French official was recently quoted as saying, “As soon as Arak is in operation, Iran can make one nuclear bomb per year, according to our calculations . . . It is absolutely essential that it should not become active and it is essential that it must be frozen as part of any interim accord.”


The only way to make “absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing their program” at Arak is for Iran to verifiably halt all construction, as Iran is already required to do by several UN Security Council resolutions.


Meanwhile, the draft interim agreement reportedly does nothing at all to make “absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing” their prohibited research into how to design and deliver a nuclear weapon.    


IAEA reports have provided extensive information about such Iranian research.  In its May 2011 report, the IAEA described documentary evidence of Iranian “studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.” 


The November 2011 IAEA report annex provided a more detailed description of information the IAEA determined “indicates that Iran has carried out . . . activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” and noted “indications that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device . . . may still be ongoing.”


Unfortunately, neither the draft interim agreement nor the November 11, 2013 Iran/IAEA “Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation” provide the IAEA with any additional access or cooperation to make “absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing” their prohibited research into how to design and deliver a nuclear weapon.  


Unless these gaps are closed, the interim agreement will make absolutely certain that while we’re talking with the Iranians, they will be busy advancing their illicit nuclear program.  Less quickly than in the absence of such an agreement, but advancing it nonetheless.



Orde F. Kittrie is a professor of law at Arizona State University and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  He previously served for ten years at the U.S. State Department, including as lead attorney for nuclear affairs, in which capacity he participating in negotiating several U.S.-Russian nonproliferation agreements.  A more detailed version of this analysis is available for download at   



For America’s Gulf allies, anxiety is not a plan


By Bilal Y. Saab – It is no secret that the Arab Gulf States have a problem with the style and substance of the US diplomatic approach toward Iran (or rapprochement, as viewed from Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and other Arab Gulf capitals). As allies, they feel they should have been consulted prior to Washington “opening up” to a historical foe such as Tehran, and their primary concern is that talks could amount to a nuclear deal that would threaten their security and sanction the emergence of Iran as power broker and policeman of the region.      






























But Arab Gulf concerns are not limited to the Iran issue, they are rooted in the belief that the Obama administration “simply doesn’t get it and is jeopardizing the alliance,” as one senior Saudi diplomat recently told me. A profound lack of trust currently characterizes relations between the United States and its Gulf allies. “The gulf is there, whether we like it or not,” one UAE former senior official said to me last summer.



Many in the US policymaking community have argued that the Arab Gulf States’ concerns are inflated and do not reflect reality. This line of reasoning, however, serves no useful purpose. While fears and emotions can sometimes be irrational (especially when you are in a vulnerable position), in this case, however, they are hardly baseless. It is highly unlikely that the Obama administration would abandon its Gulf allies in favor of a new relationship with Iran, but it has however mishandled almost every crisis in the Middle East, leaving friends and enemies alike wondering if this is a case of ineptitude or disengagement. With such a poor US policy record, the Arab Gulf States have every reason to worry that by reaching out to Tehran, Washington, not out of malicious intent but out of incompetence, could hurt their interests. Misplaced or not, the Arab Gulf States’ concerns should be addressed with a greater sense of urgency and seriousness for one simple reason: they are America’s allies in a strategically vital and energy-rich region.



As I wrote in the National Interest on June 20, 2013, the most effective antidote to this turbulence in relations is a brutally honest dialogue that addresses the tough policy issues affecting the future of the region and lays out mechanisms for increased cooperation and closer interaction. The two sides will disagree on many things, as they have clearly shown on Syria and Egypt, but differences can be managed and agendas can be brought closer together.  



But a crucial question must be asked still: What if greater consultation, for whatever reason, does not produce desired results? This is an issue that should occupy the minds of Arab Gulf leaders. It is one thing for them to communicate their concerns to Washington (and no country has done it more bluntly than Saudi Arabia), but a different thing altogether to actually have a strategy for perceived continued US negligence or passivity. Anxiety is not a plan. As worrying as the current chasm with Washington is, it ironically presents an opportunity for the Arab Gulf States to smartly and carefully re-calibrate their relationship with the United States and adjust their expectations from the alliance. Turkey has done it with NATO, and nobody has vilified it for doing so.



To induce better US cooperation, the Arab Gulf States should first and foremost do a better job of making themselves heard, without making things worse with Washington or appearing like they are employing punitive measures. While Saudi Arabia’s rejection of a seat on the Security Council was loud and shocking, it is not clear if it will achieve the intended objective or benefit the Kingdom. All it does is deny it an influential voice in New York and a greater role in international diplomacy. Arab Gulf leaders’ complaints to their American counterparts have been mostly expressed in closed rooms and on bilateral levels. This is understandable, and there is merit in keeping at least some aspects of the conversation private. However, a collective and public response can also send a stronger message to Washington and immediately grab its attention. A joint statement coming out of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that is robust but non-confrontational will show that the Arab Gulf States are united in their stand and share the same concerns about US policy in the region.   



In the areas of trade and commerce, the Arab Gulf States have some leverage that they can intelligently exercise. While it would be self-defeating for the Arab Gulf States to reduce their level of trade with the United States (which totaled around $100 billion last year) to drive their point home, privileged access to the Arab Gulf market may no longer be granted to the United States. This essentially means that trade with China and other world powers would be boosted, inevitably at the expense of US economic interests.



With regard to defense procurement, the Arab Gulf States might want to further diversify their sources. While US weapons technology is undoubtedly the best in the world, Arab Gulf allies can pay closer attention to what France, India, South Korea, and even China have to offer, as a sign of displeasure with Washington (although issues of interoperability would have to be taken seriously if a decision to complement current arsenals with non-US systems is to be made). Every Arab Gulf penny spent on non-US military hardware is a penny not earned by the United States. Arab Gulf states buy arms from the United States not just to upgrade their defensive capabilities but also to strengthen the US-GCC partnership as a whole. And Washington knows it. If the Arab Gulf States start buying non-US weapons in greater quantities Washington may well come to understand that there is something deeply upsetting in the alliance and that more should be done to ease the worries of Arab Gulf allies.   



Again, a more transparent dialogue and better communication between the United States and its Arab Gulf allies might render these proposed short-term actions unnecessary. However, even if trust is restored and regardless what happens on the diplomatic front with Iran, the Arab Gulf States ought to start thinking strategically beyond their US protector. This exercise should have been initiated a long time ago, but better late than never. No country living in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood can solely rely on external protection to ensure security, no matter how powerful and trustworthy the ally is. Also, no status-seeking country can pursue its national interests and aspirations without policies and strategies that are independent from its external ally. Just look at Israel, for example, and how its alliance with the United States – arguably the strongest in the world – has rarely prevented it from pursuing its own interests and engaging in unilateralism, sometimes at the expense of US objectives and interests. Lest there be no confusion: this is not about punishing the United States for falling short with its Gulf allies. It is about the Arab Gulf States rationally pursuing their own interests and taking some matters into their own hands.



A truly unified political and security alliance among GCC states is the best strategic option the Arab Gulf States have for assuming greater self-defense responsibilities in the future. It is also the most potent answer to the challenge of Iran. Indeed, the Arab Gulf States have to realize that together they stand a much better chance of containing Iran, whether or not it reaches a strategic understanding with the United States or acquires a nuclear weapon. Yet this framework also happens to be the most ambitious and difficult to achieve, knowing that at present relations among GCC states are plagued by distrust, petty politics, and rivalry. The ball is in the Arab Gulf States’ court. They can choose to maintain a healthy dose of competition amongst themselves but work much closer together to meet common security goals, or they can continue to go in separate ways and consequently leave themselves more vulnerable vis-à-vis Iran (even though the threat of Iran is not as severe as some Arab Gulf States think).



Despite the current uncertainty in relations between the Arab Gulf States and the United States, I still believe that the bond is too strong to be broken. But even when they kiss and make up, this tempestuous episode should serve as a catalyst for the Arab Gulf States to begin rethinking their future approach toward security because their ally has made it very clear that as it gets closer to being energy independent sometime within the next decade its engagement in that part of the world will further diminish.




Bilal Y. Saab is the Executive Director and Head of Research of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) North America. This article originally appeared in The National Interest on November 18, 2013.