Iran has made a deal with Obama to dismantle part of their nuclear program. On Jan. 20, the six month plan will start its implementation, and all the currently held stocks of highly enriched uranium, and infrastructure that would allow Iran to produce more, will be removed. This comes in return for undoing billions of dollars in sanctions by the international community.
Six nations have been involved in the talks, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States and all of them were pressing for a deal without the necessity for military action. This will please most countries, with one notable exception, Israel. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has applied strong pressure to Washington to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which may have also been strongly supported behind the scenes by Saudi Arabia. However, a dismantlement plan has been achieved and that will be the way forward.
A dismantlement plan has obvious advantages over a military strike, in that greater certainty can be had about specific nuclear sites within Iran. However, as new Iranian nuclear sites have been publicly reported over the last ten years there are still concerns over whether a voluntary program will truly remove all of Iran’s higher enrichment capability.
The issue with enrichment is that the preparation of nuclear fuel for reactors is a process which leads to uranium that is three-to-five percent enriched. If this is continued until an 80 percent or more enrichment is achieved, then the material represents a potential bomb. An added complexity for the process is that very large amounts of three percent enriched uranium are needed in order to work up to higher concentrations, but in principle, once the process is in place, it can be done given time and opportunity. If Obama’s deal with Iran were to break down, it would be reasonable to expect that Iran could achieve the level of enrichment they have now within two or up to five years. In strategic terms this would be a relatively short window for anyone to intervene against them.
As part of the deal Iran’s current stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium has to be chemically destroyed in order for the agreement to move forward. However, much of the infrastructure needed to enrich uranium, especially to levels of four percent or below, will be left in place.
President Obama is strongly signaling both externally and internally, that this is the way he wants to proceed; “Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts,” stated Obama. The efforts are peace, additionally the President stated he would veto any additional sanctions during the agreement. However, the temporary nature of the agreement, it stands for only six months, will lead to criticism as a more comprehensive deal will need to be made soon in order to fully dismantle Iran’s capabilities.
Part of reason this deal has been made now, appears to be due to pressure from other members of the negotiating team who wanted the sanctions lifted. The most likely candidate is China, who would welcome the supply of oil that Iran could contribute to its economy. Had the deal not been reached, the possibility of some members abandoning the sanctions regime, formally, or informally, would have massively undermined the ability of the US to control the Iranian program without resorting to military force. The cost of unity appears to have been a relieving of up to $7 billion dollars in sanctions.
However, the destruction of Iran’s supply of 20 percent enriched uranium is a major achievement, and with further pressure through remaining sanctions, the White House is obviously hoping the issue can be managed in the long-term without military force.
By Andrew Willig