2016-01-20 By Richard Weitz
On January 15, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had met all its obligations for the JCOPA to take effect, an assessment the other governments accepted the following day.
In accord with its terms, Iran has reduced its capacity to enrich uranium by two thirds, exported almost its entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium, converted its Fordow enrichment plant into a research center, reconfigured its plutonium reactor at Arak and not produce weapons-grade plutonium, accepted extensive international monitoring of the entire range of its nuclear activities.
The formal declaration of Implementation Day this past weekend means that countries will end their nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran.
The country’s large size, extensive nuclear activities, and proven skill at sophisticated concealment and sanctions circumvention will present a major challenge for monitoring its nuclear program despite Iran’s provisional adoption of the Additional Protocol and pledge to allow IAEA monitoring of its entire nuclear supply chain—from mining and milling, to conversion and enrichment, to nuclear reactor operations and spent fuel storage.
The Iranian government has agreed to allow the IAEA to conduct comprehensive monitoring of the sites where nuclear activities are occurring that Iran has declared to the nuclear agency.
But we need access to Iran’s military and other undeclared possible sites since that is where Iran would attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
Just last month, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had a structured military program (not just blackboard research by scientists but a multilayered effort to design a nuclear warhead and a re-entry vehicle and probably with a test of a conventional trigger for a nuclear weapon, though that is hard to prove) to design a bomb until 2003.
The IAEA has said it found some evidence that the program continued as late as 2009.
The Agency found no evidence of such an Iranian military nuclear program after that date, which is not quite the same as saying that they can confirm there was no program.
After all, the Iranian government has thwarted repeated IAEA efforts to gain access to Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons sites like Parchin or to Iranian scientists who might have involved in a program, which does not bode well for how responsive Tehran will be for future disputes regarding the IAEA.
In monitoring the agreement, the IAEA will have at its disposal a wide array of advanced detection technologies such as new environmental sampling techniques to ensure that Iran does not breach the terms of the JCPOA, but it is impossible to tell at this point how well these measures will perform.
In many cases, the IAEA inspectors will have to learn as they go.
The United States will need many partners to prevent Iranian cheating or backsliding.
All countries must coordinate how they relax international sanctions on Iran to avoid rewarding Tehran too much or too soon and thereby reducing Iran’s incentive to uphold the deal—and encourage other nuclear aspirants to anticipate similar benefits.
Potential pitfalls include Russia’s eagerness to sell weapons and civilian nuclear technologies to Iran, China’s desire for Iranian oil, and both countries’ incentive to defect from any agreement to gain leverage with Washington and its allies.
We also need deeper thinking how to keep Iran from becoming a real, as opposed to a virtual, nuclear weapons state after the constraints in the JCPOA expire.
Whatever the goals of the current leadership in Tehran, we need to consider how Iranian intentions might change a decade from now when Iran has greater latent nuclear weapons potential.
An interesting wildcard is how the deal will affect Iran’s internal evolution.
Some scholars sometimes argue that over time Iranians’ perceptions of having a less threatening environment will lead not only to a less aggressive Iranian foreign policy but also to a less repressive regime.
President Obama seems to have anticipated in his timelines that Iranian Revolution would experience its Thermidor in the next decade. -Post-Revolutionary states tend to moderate, but it is not clear if 15 years is enough.
So far the Iranian reactionaries have reacted with alarm to the deal’s possible effects and done what they can to limit U.S.-Iranian ties as well as reinforce their grip on Iranian civil society.
Meanwhile, supporters of the Iran deal hope that it will encourage and even provide a pathway for North Korea and other countries to constrain their own nuclear weapons potential without the use of force or crippling sanctions.
But while Iran marked its Implementation Day on January 16, North Korea had its own “Detonation Day” on January 6.
Unfortunately, North Korea’s nuclear program is more advanced than that of Iran.
In addition, whereas the Iranian leadership appears more divided about whether Iran needs an active nuclear arsenal at present, North Korean leades have made clear that they are determined to have nuclear weapons for defensive purposes but also for tools of extortion, influence, and prestige.
The international community has more economic leverage on Iran, which needs access to world markets, that North Korea, which is autarkic in many respects and can rely on China and illicit trafficking for others.
The United States also has better military options in the case of Iran than with North Korea.
We have better intelligence on Iran, have a more defined set of targets to bomb, and Iran has a more limited means of retaliation.
North Korea is a black box and can easily retaliate against South Korea and Japan
It is true that widespread adoption of the JCPOA-style intrusive inspections, with continuous surveillance and complete access throughout the production chain, and mandatory application of the IAEA Additional Protocol, would help counter illicit nuclear programs..
But if we are not careful, the JCPOA could set a bad precedent by making it easier for states to pursue enrichment and reprocessing and other sensitive nuclear technologies.
A better standard for nuclear technology transfers is that of the 123 Agreement for Peaceful Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation between the United Arab Emirates and the United States in which the UAE voluntarily agreed not to possess ENR technologies