The mainstream Western media is lauding the implementation of the so-called “landmark” interim nuclear agreement Iran entered into with the P-5 +1 nations – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany. Beginning when the agreement took effect on January 20th, the Associated Press reported, “Iran halted its most sensitive uranium enrichment work… easing concerns over the country’s nuclear program and clearing the way for a partial lifting of sanctions.”
An Iranian state TV broadcast proclaimed Iran’s suspension of enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level at its Natanz facility: “Production of 20 percent enriched uranium has been halted by cutting the links feeding cascades in this facility.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is being allowed to broaden its inspections under non-public procedures agreed to as part of the implementation of the interim agreement, confirmed that the centrifuges were disconnected. A similar enrichment suspension is to take place at Iran’s Fordo underground complex, also subject to IAEA verification.
Furthermore, Iran claims it is complying with its agreement to convert some of its existing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium to oxide to produce nuclear fuel and to dilute the balance from 20 percent to 5 percent enrichment over a period of six months.
In return, Iran will receive some sanctions relief, estimated by Obama administration officials to be in the range of $7 billion. There will also be a halt to any new sanctions for the six month duration of the interim agreement, which is subject to a mutually agreed upon extension for an additional six months if the parties believe that they can reach a definitive agreement regarding Iran’s entire nuclear program within that timeframe.
It all sounds so good – indeed, “historic” to use another adjective bandied about by the mainstream press – until one scratches the surface. In reality, after stripping away all the hype, the interim agreement is full of loopholes big enough to drive both key portions of Iran’s nuclear program and its reviving economy through.
For example, the interim agreement leaves completely untouched Iran’s Parchin military research facility. The IAEA has raised concerns about clandestine nuclear weapon-related activities that may have gone on there, involving development and testing of a nuclear explosives device. Iran denies the claim, but at the same time has continued to refuse access to IAEA inspectors.
The interim agreement also preserves Iran’s alternative route to building a nuclear bomb – a heavy water production plant, which is designed to supply a heavy water reactor under construction nearby that could be used to produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb. Although IAEA inspectors have been permitted to visit the site in Arak, there does not appear to be anything in the interim agreement that would require Iran to stop the building of components for future installation in its heavy water facilities in Arak, much less dismantle what is already there. The only thing Iran has committed to do is to refrain from actually activating the heavy water reactor, which it is not ready to do anyway right now as construction of the reactor continues.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a master of faux negotiations. He is playing the same game to stall for time that, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003, he used then to lull the Europeans into thinking Iran had agreed to a meaningful suspension of its nuclear activities. Instead, exploiting the illusion of suspension a decade ago, Iran’s government took significant steps in finalizing the heart of Iran’s nuclear program – uranium conversion, enrichment and installation of many more centrifuges. Rouhani bragged about his artifice years later during an interview on Iranian state television. In that interview, he asked a rhetorical question and then responded regarding how Iran’s enrichment technology capabilities significantly advanced during the supposed suspension: “We halted the nuclear program? We were the ones to complete it! We completed the technology.”
What Rouhani is now doing is right out of the same playbook. He is using the suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment above 5 percent – a technology which Iran has long since fully mastered – as a cover behind which Iran completes the development of the technology necessary for successfully triggering a nuclear device. It is also moving ahead with the construction of all the components necessary for heavy water plant facilities useful for producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb.
Moreover, the Iranian regime can easily reverse course on uranium enrichment in a twinkling of an eye. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, boasted last week in a television interview that “We can return again to 20 percent enrichment in less than one day and we can convert the [nuclear] material again. I can say definitively that the structure of our nuclear program will be exactly preserved. Nothing will be put aside, dismantled or halted. Everything will continue, enrichment will continue.”
This is no bluff. Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed in a recent radio interview that Iran can re-connect the centrifuge links to enable resumption of 20 percent enrichment “in one day’s time.” Even more ominously, he warned that Iran has the technical capability to put the requisite number of linked centrifuges into operation, after which “it would take about two, three weeks to have enough uranium hexafluoride high-enriched for one single weapon.” If Iran abides completely by the terms of the interim agreement for the full six months in regard to the conversion of its full stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, it could take three months, rather than two to three weeks, to get back on track to enrich enough uranium to build a bomb. Meanwhile, nothing is stopping Iran from continuing its work on its plutonium production facilities and nuclear triggering technology.
While Iran will hardly miss a beat in its enrichment program if it decides it is in its interest to abandon the negotiations for a more permanent deal, the benefits of the sanctions relief it will have obtained in the interim will be irreversible. The Iranian economy will receive an immediate direct infusion as assets currently blocked overseas are released. Sanctions are being immediately lifted on key industrial and commodity sectors comprising petrochemical products, gold and other precious metals, the auto industry, and passenger plane parts and services. In addition, Russian and West European companies and government representatives are already making frequent trips to Iran in anticipation of renewing commercial ties as the entire fragile multinational sanctions regime begins to unravel. This in turn has helped stabilize Iran’s currency and sent its stock market soaring.
In short, the “historic,” “landmark” interim deal trumpeted by the Obama administration is in fact an historic giveaway to Iran full of landmines and loopholes. It is up to Congress to pass legislation with sufficient bipartisan majorities to override an expected Obama veto that would send a clear signal to Iran. Under such legislation, if Iran cheats on the interim deal or simply pockets the economic windfall from the sanctions relief it obtains under the interim deal and abandons good faith negotiations to reach a meaningful, verifiable permanent agreement that prevents it from getting anywhere close to a nuclear bomb breakout capability, it will face the immediate imposition of crippling new economic sanctions, added to what is already still in place. The sanctions would reduce Iran’s oil exports to a trickle and completely isolate Iran from the global financial system, with little latitude for President Obama to grant waivers. Anything less is surrender, the precise word that Iran’s President Rouhani himself used to describe the West’s cave-in to Iran’s demands in the interim agreement.
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