Evaluating the nuclear deal on its merits – Part 1

It would be irresponsible and indeed reckless to ignore the measured, carefully considered observations of this prestigious body on the merits of the JCPOA.

While the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached with Iran may well be a beneficial historic achievement a democratic society would encourage open debate before endorsing it unconditionally.

After all, it was concluded by fallible mortals on behalf of the population each negotiator represented. In the circumstances it is difficult to understand the fierce reaction to well-meaning persons who ask for clarification of certain details and who suggest modifications to ensure that the objectives of the agreement are indeed attainable..

It is indeed  frightening to see highly respected leaders of the greatest democracy in the world (including politicians, scientists, generals, admirals and movie stars) stoop to name calling and denigration of people who dare to express opinions that differ from theirs while avoiding the real issues. It is disturbing to say the least that the president of the USA has declared that he will veto a resolution by congress before hearing what will be said.

In the circumstances it is encouraging to read The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Joint Statement by Robert Satloff, Dennis Ross, James Jeffrey, Patrick Clawson, David Makovsky, Michael Eisenstadt, and Simon Henderson who have met to assess the agreement’s relationship to the parameters outlined in the study group’s June 24 policy statement. The group benefited from several hours of discussions with senior U.S. government officials from the White House, Treasury Department, and other agencies to seek clarifications of the text and discuss areas of concern held by members of the group.

While applauding several major achievements in the agreement, especially the long-term restrictions on aspects of Iran’s declared nuclear program they assess that critical aspects may fall short and they recommend the following clarifications and additional measures, many of which they say should appropriately be addressed before Congress votes on the agreement.

They are concerned about whether it provides adequate “timely access” when it comes to undeclared sites. The 24 days allotted to potential delaying tactics may very well make it possible to hide violations, including weapons design work, design and manufacture of nonnuclear components used in nuclear weapons, etc. and they urge the administration to clarify its plans to address these important issues to ensure the integrity of the JCPOA’s monitoring and verification provisions.

Because the agreement on access to the Parchin military site has yet to be made public, it is difficult to know whether it meets the terms specified in the study group statement that IAEA inspectors have the ability “to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as required for their investigation.” Further clarification is needed.

At year 10, limits on centrifuges begin to be removed, and at year 15, all limits are terminated.  Given that an essential element of the JCPOA is that Iran has promised “transparency” in exchange for retaining its nuclear infrastructure, it is essential that Iran’s long-term R&D plan be made public soon to allow considered judgment of whether the limitations outlined in the text reflect the intent of the JCPOA.

Equally important is to make sure that other members of the P5+1, especially European allies, understand the scope of continuing U.S. sanctions, so that tensions with allies do not substitute for pressure on Iran. The administration should publicly clarify U.S. policy on this issue and ensure that allies have a common understanding.

While the US has prepared its approach toward penalties for various  small and mid-sized Iranian violations, details of this have not been made public and lack of a common understanding on this issue within the P5+1, and even between the US and its European allies, is a potentially serious problem.  The administration needs to reach common understanding now at least with our European allies on how the JCPOA parties will respond to various types of Iranian violations.

Re Paragraph 37 (“snapback”) they are concerned that not all P5+1 countries share the U.S. view and are willing to confirm that publicly. The administration should seek common public clarification on this issue with all P5+1 parties as soon as possible.

Given that Iran has publicly stated its intention to pursue its negative regional behavior in the period ahead, it is important for the administration to intensify its current efforts to work closely with allies, so Iran sees clearly the costs of more aggressive action. It is important to note the connection between Iran’s regional policies and the nuclear accord. If Iran views the regional environment as permissive, in which there is not sufficient pushback against its negative regional behavior, it will be more inclined to test the bounds of the nuclear agreement.

By contrast, if Iran finds that it encounters effective U.S. pushback wherever it seeks to expand its influence, it will likely be less inclined to test the limits of the nuclear agreement.

It would be irresponsible and indeed reckless to ignore the measured, carefully considered observations of this prestigious body on the merits of the JCPOA.

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