May 12, 2014
More than three months since the implementation of the interim deal with Iran over its nuclear program, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), we thought it valuable to offer an assessment of the impact of the agreement. Evidence suggests the JPA has set back Iran’s breakout timing by nearly one month. However, that benefit is more than offset by provisions which: allow Iran to enrich uranium more rapidly than before the deal; steadily reduce the pressure on Tehran from sanctions; and fail to resolve international concerns about Iran’s weaponization activities. As a result, in our judgment the JPA is not making a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program more likely to be achieved.
This is based on three key trends we observe thus far, all of which are permitted under the JPA. First, increased centrifuge efficiency could negate the ongoing neutralization of Iran’s most advanced uranium stockpile. As a result, Tehran’s overall progress toward nuclear weapons capability could be unchanged, or even advanced, during the interim period. Second, even as the JPA leaves Iran’s potential breakout timing unchanged, it is decreasing U.S. leverage for compelling Iran to conclude and adhere to an acceptable final deal. Specifically, we estimate increased oil exports resulting from the JPA’s unlacing of sanctions will yield Iran $9- 13 billion more in revenue between the deal’s announcement in November 2013 and the end of the six-month interim deal than if it had not been agreed. Third, despite some transparency improvements, Iran continues to deny the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) full access to suspected military dimensions of its nuclear program. As before the JPA, this leaves inspectors largely in the dark about the true extent of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Tehran’s compliance should not obscure the fundamental character of the regime with which the United States is trying to negotiate a final deal. Amid the hopeful atmosphere surrounding these talks, the Islamic Republic remains the leading international sponsor of terrorism and the backbone of the Syrian regime’s brutal suppression of its own citizens. It continues rejecting international law and global norms - including binding U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its nuclear program and comply with its non-proliferation obligations - as self-serving instruments of Western repression. This is part of the regime leadership’s conspiracy-laden worldview. Only days before the JPA was announced, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed publicly the United States used nuclear weapons against Japan after Tokyo was ready to surrender, “with the excuse of war so that it becomes clear whether these bombs work properly or not.” During the JPA interim, he described the Holocaust “as an event whose reality is uncertain, and, if it happened, it’s uncertain how it happened.” This should inform U.S. negotiators’ ongoing approach to a comprehensive settlement: how can a regime with such ingrained radical policies be entrusted with sensitive nuclear technologies?
Considering how close the Iranian regime remains to nuclear weapons capability, we therefore believe it is critically important to gauge the effectiveness of the interim deal in the wake of February and April 2014 IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear program. We frame our assessment according to six principles, listed individually below, to which we believe any deal must conform to protect U.S. national security interests.