Op-Ed: Iran is driving the bus, so why is the West celebrating?

This article by Daniel Wagner first appeared in the Huffington Post and is reposted with their permission. Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, a cross-border risk advisory firm, and author of the book “Managing Country Risk.”

Supreme Iranian leader Khamenei spent much of last week lambasting the U.S. and Israel, as the Iranian negotiating team worked their magic in Geneva. Given the rhetoric spewing from Tehran, it was hard to tell that Ahmadinejad was no longer president. The P5+1 negotiating team did not seem too concerned, however, being hell-bent on sealing a deal with Tehran — even one that required only cosmetic concessions from Tehran. It is hard to understand what all the celebrating in the West is about. Simply that there is an agreement, where there had been none? The Iranians should be doing the celebrating — and they are.

According to the White House fact sheet, Iran must:

  • Halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.
  • Dilute below 5% or convert to a form not suitable for further enrichment its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium before the end of the initial phase.
  • Halt progress on its enrichment capacity by not installing additional centrifuges of any type or installing or using any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.
  • Leave inoperable about half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.
  • Limit centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.
  • Not construct additional enrichment facilities.
  • Not increase its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium, so that the amount is not greater at the end of the six months than it is at the beginning, and any newly enriched 3.5% enriched uranium is converted into oxide.
  • Not commission or fuel the Arak reactor, halt the production of fuel for Arak, halt additional testing of fuel for Arak, not install any additional reactor components at Arak, and not transfer fuel and heavy water to the reactor site.
  • Not construct a facility capable of reprocessing.

Iran has also agreed to provide the IAEA with a wide range of monitoring capabilities, address all UN resolutions regarding Iran and its nuclear program, and come into full compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So, in essence, Iran is being rewarded for resisting Western economic and political concessions, building up its nuclear program, and denying the nature and scope of its nuclear program by getting to keep what it has, but agreeing not to add to it. In 2003, Iran had fewer than 200 centrifuges; today it has more than 19,000. They get to keep their ability to process uranium and plutonium, they get to keep Arak in place, and they get to keep most of their existing centrifuges. Now I see what all the celebrating is about.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is right: this does very little to prevent Iran from retaining the ability to build its nuclear program. In six months-time, should Iran be found non-compliant, the West has the ability to re-implement those sanctions it has lifted in return for this agreement, but Iran is positioned to simply carry on where it left off. It similarly retains the ability to continue to engage in clandestine activity in those facilities and areas not included in the agreement — and Iran has proven masterful at deception in that regard.

I find myself wondering why, after all this time, there seemed to be such urgency to arrive at a deal with Iran. And, in doing so, why did the West agree to something that merely stops further progress, rather than either ratcheting down the program or removing key components? Was the West so desperate to halt Iran’s march to the finish line that it was happy to settle for something that, for the time being at least, stops Iran’s program where it is? Were the parties to the agreement wanting to ‘declare victory’ and call it a day?

And why is the West so enamored with new ‘moderate’ Iranian president Rouhani? According to the Washington Post, which reviewed Rouhani’s memoirs during his time as the country’s chief negotiator on nuclear policy between 2003 and 2005, “…The man is an establishment figure with a deep commitment to the Islamic republic and its nuclear aspirations, a man who will beguile the West and preserve as much advantage as possible for Iran.” To borrow Netanyahu’s phrase, he really does seem like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Let’s give him a hug.

This agreement shows that for all its effort and collective effort, short of military action, the West remains powerless to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, and that Iran is really driving the bus. The P5+1 appears to have jumped through Iran’s hoops, rather than demanding truly substantive and meaningful concessions from Iran. Iran has proven capable of building a nuclear program with all the world against it. Continuing to do so clandestinely while complying with an agreement that leaves its infrastructure in place should be no problem at all.


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Categories: Middle East/North Africa, Security


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One Comment on “Op-Ed: Iran is driving the bus, so why is the West celebrating?”

  1. Demosthenes
    November 29, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    While the viewpoint of this article makes sense from a very realist perspective, one must realize the state of affairs in the West at this time. To focus exclusively on the United States, the success of having Iran publicly state that no further expansion of a nuclear program will take place gives an ailing Presidency its first real international diplomatic win. One must consider the list of “accomplishments” currently enjoyed by the current President. While many blame George W Bush’s presidency as the cause for all these evils, if Obama’s stated foreign policy agenda is studied, nearly every point is a failure.

    In posted materials all over, the Obama administration has called for (among other things) a nuclear-free world, increased support of allies internationally, and the seeking of increased positive relations with regional players in Asia and Middle East alike.

    Despite the lip service paid toward the first of these, the Obama administration has done little to secure a nuclear free world. SALT talks are in perpetual stasis, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is not even a blip on the American political radar, and the most proximate move towards this comes from the most recent deal with Iran about pushing for an expansion of the NPT. A deal with Iran increases legitimacy of American diplomatic efforts, which have been lacking since the bipartisan divide begun early in the Bush II administration.

    Increased support of allies continues to fail as well. Israel and Saudi Arabia have done little but react with fear towards a revived Iran, and the US has done little but denigrate the fears of these allies (whether or not they are legitimate is besides the point). Given the foreign policy point of supporting America’s “first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East,” Israel’s rhetoric paints the picture of an abandoned ally for the chance of a legacy accomplishment.

    The final major failure lies in the expansion of positive relationships with regional players in the Middle East and Asia. Pakistan, a pillar of US security policy since the 1980s, has expressed nothing but anger at the US drone strikes that continue to hammer rural Pakistan. Japan is more supported, at least ostensibly, by the US; at least, they are supported until China is involved, at which point the US plays a confusing political ploy of militarily goading China as trillions are invested in country by American firms.

    Why is the West celebrating? They, or at least the US, celebrate because the deal above, as poor as it is, reflects a hopeful refurbishing of US political standing.

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