More than three months since the implementation of the interim deal with Iran over its nuclear program, formally known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), it’s important to take a step back and assess the impact of the agreement. Evidence suggests the JPA has pushed back Iran’s breakout timing by nearly one month. However, that benefit is more than offset by provisions that allow Iran to enrich uranium more rapidly than before the deal, that steadily reduce the pressure on Tehran from sanctions, and that fail to resolve international concerns about Iran’s weaponization activities. As a result, in our judgment the JPA is not making a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program more likely to be achieved.Considering how close the Iranian regime remains to nuclear weapons capability, we believe it is critically important to gauge the effectiveness of the interim deal in the wake of February and April 2014 IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear program. We frame our assessment according to six principles, listed individually below, to which we believe any deal with Iran must conform to protect U.S. national security interests.1. Prevent Nuclear Weapons Capability
Increased centrifuge efficiency could negate the ongoing neutralization of Iran’s most advanced uranium stockpile. As a result, Tehran’s overall progress toward nuclear weapons capability could be unchanged, or even advanced, during the interim period. Some elements of Iran’s nuclear program have indeed been set back, compared to where they would be without the JPA. The pause in 20 percent enriched uranium production – and conversion or dilution of that stockpile – has expanded Iran’s current estimated breakout window from 59 to 82 days. However, IAEA reports reveal other elements have advanced in ways permitted under the JPA, most crucially an increased production rate of 3.5 percent enriched uranium. If Iran continues to boost this production rate, and/or increases the number of centrifuges operating at higher rates, it could cut its breakout timing to near the pre-JPA level—and even reduce it below this level—by the end of the six-month interim without violating the deal.2. Negotiate from a Position of StrengthFor the United States to have any hope of achieving an acceptable final deal, Iranian leaders must believe they have more to lose than their U.S. counterparts. However, even as the JPA leaves Iran’s potential breakout timing unchanged, it is decreasing U.S. leverage. The pause on oil sanctions allows Iran to accumulate windfall oil export revenue, and makes it increasingly difficult to re-impose suspended sanctions if diplomacy fails. We estimate increased oil exports resulting from the JPA’s unlacing of sanctions will yield Iran $9-13 billion more in revenue between the deal’s November 2013 announcement and the end of the six-month interim than if it had not been agreed. Thus Iran could emerge from the interim period facing less international pressure, even if its breakout timing ends up largely unaffected by the deal.3. Don’t Waste TimeThus far, the JPA has complicated what should be American policymakers’ ultimate goal: forcing Iran to give up its nuclear program before it could attain an undetectable nuclear weapons capability. Nor has it met the less ambitious goal of freezing Iran’s nuclear progress. However, the P5+1 and Iran appear to be working toward an agreement before the July 20 deadline, even though the interim is renewable.4. Impose Strict International Inspections RegimeInspections are necessary to verify Iran adheres to the interim deal and does not attempt to break out. To this end, the JPA provides for more regular IAEA inspections and enhanced monitoring at Iran’s declared enrichment facilities. The IAEA report suggests these measures have helped ensure Iran’s compliance with the JPA thus far, in particular the freeze on enriching uranium to 20 percent. However, that same report pinpoints the insufficiency of existing IAEA safeguards for verifying Iran has no undeclared activities that could contribute to an undetectable nuclear weapons capability. The JPA provides no such mechanism for the interim.5. Resolve International Concerns About Iran’s Nuclear ProgramThe IAEA’s February 2014 report notes unresolved concerns about Iran’s possible violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its IAEA Safeguards Agreement as pertains to weaponization. Tehran has continued to deny inspectors access to Parchin military base, where the IAEA suspects previous weaponization work occurred. The JPA explicitly does not require Iran to resolve these issues to the IAEA’s satisfaction. This seriously complicates inspectors’ understanding of Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons capability, and signals Tehran is not ready to make its nuclear program more transparent as it negotiates a final deal.6. Adhere to International Legal RequirementsIran’s failure to resolve such concerns previously prompted unanimous legally-binding U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions requiring it to suspend enrichment and come clean on possible weaponization activities. Iran has yet to satisfy these requirements, and the JPA does not appear to be moving it any closer to doing so. The interim deal calls for all parties – including all of the five permanent UNSC members which passed these resolutions – to address (but not resolve) Iran’s violations. Iranian leaders – both in and outside the Rouhani Administration – are unwilling to meet even this standard, demanding instead recognition of their declared “right” to enrich uranium.A longer version of this report, which goes into each of the six areas in more depth, is available on JINSA’s Gemunder Center Iran Task Force webpage.