Analysis from U.S. and Israel-based experts emerged last week casting doubt on the robustness of existing and planned Iranian nuclear concessions, with observers evaluating the matter both in the context of negotiations and as it is likely to affect the calculations of Iran’s neighbors.
Dr. Emily B. Landau, the head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), noted that while the Iranians are indeed complying with the interim agreement, their commitment is very limited…While the IAEA report notes the Iranians now have very few kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium left, “you have to remember these processes are reversible. Meaning, you can turn the diluted uranium back to 20 percent,” Dr. Landau said. “So while they are complying with the interim agreement, they continue 5 percent uranium enrichment.”
Iran also continues research and development of new and advanced centrifuges that can spin at very high speeds, an issue that is not addressed in the interim agreement.
“It’s very concerning, because the moment you have centrifuges that spin in much higher speeds, you can enrich the 5 percent uranium to levels higher than 90 percent, much faster,” Dr. Landau explained.
Meanwhile the Tehran Times last week published an interview with former Obama administration non-proliferation point man Gary Samore on several remaining issues dividing the parties. Asked whether the P5+1 demand that Iran roll back its ballistic missile program was “due to Israel’s fears,” Samore bluntly responded that “the reason for including the missile issue… is because United Nations Security Resolution 1929… demands that Iran ‘shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
Asked how the U.S. should “bridge [the] differences” between U.S. and Israeli interests “in regard to Iran’s nuclear program,” Samore rejected the premise and declared that “the U.S. and Israel (and other regional parties) share the same interest in limiting Iran’s capability to produce fissile material so that Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons,” contrasting that international stance with Tehran’s demand that it eventually be allowed to have “an industrial scale facility of 50,000 or more centrifuge machines.”
An insufficiently robust agreement on Iran’s nuclear deal is likely to have regional cascade effects. Top figures from Saudi Arabia have explicitly signaled that they are prepared to pursue nuclear technology to balance Iran. Gabriel Scheinmann, the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, assessed last week that – especially given U.S. intelligence failings in the past – a deal that left Iran too close to the nuclear finish line would risk forcing Washington’s Arab and Israeli allies to act unilaterally.
Without bombers and in immediate range of Iranian missiles, regional states do not have the luxury of waiting for perfect, real-time intelligence—unless they are convinced America will stop an Iranian breakout under all circumstances. Therein lies the rub that explains why America’s allies are so distressed: while Washington can wait until it is undeniably convinced of an imminent Iranian breakout, Jerusalem and Riyadh cannot and do not trust that an Iranian nuclear weapon is indeed President Obama’s redline. Given America’s track record, who can blame them?