As showdown time with Iran draws near, what are the real choices?

It can be assumed that a way will be found for the P5+1 to somehow have their cake and eat it too, at least partially.

US AND IRANIAN negotiators pose yesterday in Geneva before another discussion of Iran’s nuclear program (photo credit: REUTERS)
US AND IRANIAN negotiators pose yesterday in Geneva before another discussion of Iran’s nuclear program
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the June 30 deadline for the completion of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran draws near, the Islamic Republic has been sharpening its previously stated red lines, and drawing some new ones. The provisions included in White House fact sheet issued on April 2, that are still open to competing interpretations and dispute between the P5+1 nations and Iran, denoted, in the main, four issues of importance to the P5+1, and the one all-important issue for Iran – namely, immediate sanctions relief. The four issues of importance for the P5+1 are uranium enrichment capabilities; the heavy water reactor at Arak; verification and inspections; and the military aspects of Iran’s program.
Unfortunately, the P5+1 gave up ahead of the negotiations the option of including ballistic missiles in the final deal, seemingly acquiescing to Iran’s claim that these delivery systems are “non-nuclear.”
Of these four issues, two seem no longer in dispute – Iran’s enrichment capabilities and the heavy-water reactor. The remaining two issues are, and always have been the critical ones for assuring with any measure of confidence that Iran will not have the ability to break out and produce nuclear weapons in a short time-frame. Indeed, the verification regime and the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program are not only crucial, but are interconnected, and therefore must be dealt with simultaneously.
Simply put, the verification regime must be able to assure that everything about Iran’s nuclear program is known to the international inspectors, and that no concealed activities are taking place. Knowledge of the military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program (Possible Military Dimensions – PMD) is essential for assessing Iran’s potential to produce nuclear explosive devices, and is therefore crucial for good and effective verification. The Iranian leadership – which continues to harbor military nuclear ambitions – is well aware of the importance of these two issues, and has therefore been emphatic in its rejection of inspections of secret military facilities.
Objectively speaking, giving in to the demands of “any place, any time” inspections would be tantamount to loss of independence to foreign powers, be they national or international. In addition, the requirement that the inspectors have access to scientists and documentation would make full disclosure the name of the game. The difficulty for Iran in adhering to these requirements is compounded – in a nation where pride takes the front seat, such disclosure is perceived as unwarranted international humiliation.
And this applies also to the very important issue of the PMD.
Iran can concede to such demands only when it feels that it has no choice, as was the case in the Iran- Iraq war. However, in the current dynamic Iran has not come to that conclusion, because the “sticks” that were applied by the international community were not big enough, nor did they last long enough. The pressure of sanctions began to be eased before the final agreement was reached, which has only weakened the hand of the P5+1. Moreover, the challenge for the international community is not only to create pressure and hardship for the regime, but to then effectively use the leverage gained thereby at the negotiating table. The P5+1 did poorly in this respect as well – rather than calling Iran’s bluff at the table, secure in the knowledge that Iran would not leave because it seeks sanctions relief, these powers began offering concessions to Iran in their attempt to draw it closer to a deal. For Iran this attempt at “fair play” by the US only spelled weakness, and once the other side’s vulnerability was exposed, this was Iran’s cue to harden its red lines and demands.
As we move into the final stretch, perhaps, it would appear that there are two choices: either giving in further to Iran’s demands, or not reaching a deal. The possibility that Iran would give in to the two demands – regarding verification and PMD – even in return for the complete and immediate lifting of sanctions, is at this point close to nil. The need to preserve the potential for the production of a nuclear explosive device is of paramount importance for Iran.
So what will it be? Further concessions to Iran or the P5+1 walking away? Since the P5+1 commitment to reaching a deal has only increased over the past year, it can be assumed that a way will be found for the P5+1 to somehow have their cake and eat it too, at least partially.
Indeed, the closer they feel they are to a deal – no matter what the nature of the remaining sticking points – the more committed they are to not pronouncing whatever they achieve to be a bad deal. So we are likely to see a willingness on the part of the P5+1 to agree to prolonged notifications before inspections, no sample-taking from different sites, no personal interviews, no searches, extended schedules for Iran to answer questions regarding PMD (but never doing so), managed access procedures in selected places, and so forth.
Unfortunately, this will amount to a well-orchestrated face-saving farce. Should such a deal be reached, Iran will practically retain the option to invest in a clandestine operation to produce the necessary fissile material for the core of a nuclear explosive device, with the explosive part of this device already achieved in the military facilities that will not be prone to inspection, and whose details will remain undisclosed under the PMD issue.
Moreover, with meaningful restrictions on Iran lifted in 10 years in any case – according to the very problematic (and bizarre) “sunset clause” – Iran’s path to a military nuclear capability will be paved.
Dr. Ephraim Asculai is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Dr.
Emily B. Landau is director of the Arms Control and Regional Security program at INSS.