The Iranian regime has achieved five objectives with the nuclear deal:
1. The West accepts its uranium enrichment program;
2. The West enhances the regime’s post-Ahmadinejad makeover;
3. Sanctions are eased;
4. U.S. pressure on Israel is maximized;
5. U.S. President Barack Obama is politically boxed into a corner favorable to Iran.
The West used to insist on an end to Iran’s enriching of uranium altogether. Now, Iran has achieved its first objective: It is now allowed to enrich to 5%, ostensibly for medical isotopes, caving to a long-held demand of the Iranian regime. Supporters of the deal point out that uranium must be enriched to about 90% to become fuel for a nuclear bomb, but the numbers are misleading.
The hardest part of creating nuclear bomb fuel is the initial uranium enrichment. Once the uranium is brought to a level of 3.5% enrichment, it is actually 7/10ths of the way to becoming bomb fuel. Experts say that the 90% level can be reached in as little as six weeks or as long as four and a half months, but the bottom line is that Iran’s adversaries don’t have long to act, especially if there is enrichment happening at unmonitored sites.
Iran’s current stock of 20% enriched uranium brings it 9/10ths of the way towards having bomb fuel. Supporters of the deal argue that it eliminates the threat posed by this material. Half of it is required to be brought back to 5%. The other half will be converted to a supposedly harmless oxide—but that’s not as good as it sounds.
“The notion that this puts the material ‘beyond use for bombs’ is simply wrong. The conversion of oxide back to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas is not ‘time-consuming,’ is not necessarily ‘detectable,’ and is not particularly ‘technically demanding,’” write two experts from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs.
The deal also does nothing about Iran’s ballistic missile program, or the fact that it has outsourced the more provocative elements of its nuclear program to North Korea.
As Iranian and North Korean scientists regularly travel back and forth, North Korea’s difficulties creating a nuclear warhead small enough to fit onto a missile mean that Iran is having the same difficulties. Iranian scientists have been going to North Korea over the past several months to help build an 80-ton rocket booster for long-range ballistic missiles. North Korea also recently reactivated its plutonium plant used to make nuclear weapons.
Under the new deal, the Iranian nuclear infrastructure — including its enrichment sites, plutonium plant, centrifuges, scientists, raw uranium and missile technology — is not dismantled at all. The regime might as well cash in while its North Korean allies work out the remaining problems in their nuclear endeavors.
The second objective is advancing the regime's makeover. Having the smooth “moderate” Hassan Rouhani as the Iranian president wasn’t enough. The Iranian regime needed to give the West confidence that it can be rationally dealt with and that negotiations aren’t a waste of time.
The third objective is to help Iran’s economy. The regime is in immense pain because of the international sanctions. The deal delays the implementation of more sanctions and will allow Iran to recoup about $7 billion in revenue.
The deal eases sanctions on Iranian oil sales, unfreezes assets and suspends U.S. and European sanctions on Iran’s auto industry, the sale of aviation equipment and exports of petrochemical supplies and gold and other precious medals.
Other countries are also going to jump at the opportunity to trade with Iran again. For example, Pakistan and Iran are accelerating the delayed construction of a natural gas pipeline. A Pakistani political leader explicitly said his country should take advantage of the easing of sanctions on Iran over the next six months.
The fourth objective is to strain the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Iran was racing towards achieving critical nuclear capabilities by mid-2014, the red line that would have likely triggered Israeli military action.
It is true that this timeframe is lengthened if the deal does not fall through and Iran does not have secret nuclear sites operating. However, Israel is calling the deal a “historic mistake.” The U.S. wants time for the deal to be tried out and Israel may be unwilling to wait that long. The Obama Administration will go to great lengths to stop Israel from foiling what it hopes to be a major foreign policy achievement.
The fifth objective is politically “checkmating” President Obama. The Iranian regime now has leverage over him because it gets to help shape his legacy.
The current deal is tentative. A final, comprehensive agreement is to be reached in six months. Iran cashes in until the deal fails and, if it does, President Obama looks incredibly foolish. His political opponents will rehash it every time the Middle East makes the news.
Iran will reasonably expect Obama to go the extra mile to ink a deal. Expect the regime to make big demands towards the end of this six-month period. Iran’s Foreign Minister is already saying that all sanctions on Iran must be lifted at the end of that period, but Iran will not ship any uranium outside of the country or close any nuclear sites.
As we have documented on ClarionProject.org, we've already seen the rehearsal for this play.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.