The Geneva deal

At its best, the deal signed in Geneva might temporarily slow Iran’s progress toward nuclear arms capability.

Kerry and Zarif shake hands in Geneva 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
Kerry and Zarif shake hands in Geneva 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
The nuclear agreement signed in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran over the weekend is a “bad deal” from Israel’s perspective.
Simply put, the deal does not roll back the vast majority of technological advances Iran has made in the past five years that have drastically shortened what nuclear experts call its “dash time” — the minimum time it would take to build a nuclear weapon if Iran’s supreme leader or military decided to pursue such as path.
Iran’s centrifuges, which numbered a few thousand in 2009 when US President Barack Obama took office and have grown to 18,000, will not be dismantled and will continue to spin. What’s more, according to the deal, those that break down can be replaced with the same type of centrifuges so that Iran’s ability to “dash” for the bomb remains intact at its present level.
Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 5 percent and must either convert or dilute fuel stocks that are closest to the 20% weapons grade, But since its centrifuges will remain in operation, Iran will retain the capability to produce more of this weapon-grade fuel if it so chooses.
And it could do this clandestinely: There is no provision in the agreement to allow the monitoring of underground sites where the CIA, Europe and Israel believe — but have no clear-cut evidence — that Iran is conducting enrichment. Also, a heavy water reactor outside the city of Arak – which has the sole purpose of producing a nuclear weapon — will not be dismantled.
And all of this nuclear weapon activity will be allowed to continue as the P5+1 relinquishes aspects of the sanction regime that have been put together meticulously for several years. The EU, the UN and the US all agreed not to put in place any new sanctions (if Congress votes for more sanctions after Thanksgiving break, Obama will have to veto the motion). And the US and the EU have agreed to suspend sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports; its auto industry; its gold and precious metals trade. The P5+1 has agreed to establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran’s domestic needs using oil revenues held abroad. Included under “humanitarian trade” are tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad.
It is difficult to gauge the economic significance of all these concessions — but even if the positive impact of these concessions is quite modest (the White House estimates they are worth about $7 billion) the psychological impact is clear: if the Islamic Republic’s mullah regime had been concerned that the deteriorating economic situation might lead to dissent, discontent and political upheaval, the mullahs now have some breathing space.
Also, while it is easy to roll back sanctions, it will be much more difficult to reinstate them should the Iranians renege on their part of the deal. And cracks in the sanction regime combined with the tremendous pressures of business interests to resume “business as usual” with Iran might result in more economic relief than intended.
Understandably, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and others in the government such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni are calling it a bad deal. Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” and reiterated Israel’s right to stop Iran with military means if necessary.
“Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,” Netanyahu said.
But Israel is not the only one critical of the deal. The Saudis, wary of seeing neighboring Iran with the bomb, might spark a nuclear arms race by turning to Pakistan, which developed its own nuclear weapons with Saudi funding.
And Obama will face stiff opposition at home as well.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R –Virginia) expressed concern that the deal did not meet the demands of the UN Security Council resolutions which call for the full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities. And a similar point was made in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry signed by Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
At its best, the deal signed in Geneva might temporarily slow Iran’s progress toward nuclear arms capability. More likely it will provide the US and other western nations with a false impression that headway has been made while providing cover for the Iranians as they plod forward toward nuclear capability. Under the circumstances, there seems little cause for celebration.