By Andrew Szarejko
Recent reports have indicated that a final deal with Iran may be within reach, but there are still a number of outstanding issues that must be settled before the current first-stage agreement ends on July 20th. Several key issues will come into play as the two sides negotiate a final deal. As Joe Cirincione recently explained, there are ten important factors that must be addressed:
- Quantity of centrifuges: The more centrifuges Iran has, the more quickly it could potentially produce highly-enriched uranium for bombs.
- Capability of centrifuges: The more advanced Iran’s machines are, the more quickly they could potentially enrich uranium to bomb quality.
- Locations of centrifuges: The number and location of Iranian nuclear sites could complicate ongoing verification, as well as the potential for a military strike.
- Quantity of low-enriched uranium (LEU): Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium can be converted to bomb-grade if Iran so chooses. A large amount could allow this to happen more quickly.
- Plutonium production capabilities: Plutonium could serve as a second path to an Iranian bomb. For this reason, Iran will have to limit any facility, such as the Arak reactor under construction, which can produce this material.
- Research and development (R&D) on advanced technologies: Ongoing work on more advanced centrifuges or technologies that could be used for weapons could undermine confidence in the deal.
- Verification of all of Iran’s activities: The more tightly Iran’s facilities are monitored, the more confident inspectors will be in the ability to detect quickly any effort to break out and sprint to a bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will likely be charged with verification.
- Disclosure of the history of programs with possible military dimensions (PMD): Iran will have to address questions related to past programs that may have involved work on nuclear weapon technologies.
- The duration and timeline of the deal: There will have to be agreement on how long the restrictions will last, either as a whole or separately, and how sanctions relief will be linked to Iranian concessions.
- The political willingness of the parties to enforce the deal: Ultimately, the deal will rest on the belief that nations will react quickly and certainly to any violations of the agreement.
- Adding to Cirincione’s list, Iran’s ballistic missile program is an issue that must be addressed in the context of a final deal or in a separate agreement. In the event that Iran attempts to cheat on a deal, it would be preferable that Iran not have advanced delivery vehicles.
Given these variables, what might a final deal look like? David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and Robert Einhorn, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the State Department, each provide their own answers to that question. The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs also commissioned a task force co-chaired by Ambassador Eric Edelman and Ambassador Dennis Ross to draft a proposal for a final deal. Though their report is meant mainly to provide a critical look at the interim deal, it also volunteers suggestions for final deal. More recently, the International Crisis Group (ICG) came out with its own recommendations. I compare the four proposals across each of eleven categories to determine where the analyses converge and how closely a final deal might resemble these prescriptions.
While there is some agreement among the four reports, notably on the thorny issues of centrifuge location and verification measures, one key difference can be found in the resulting Iranian nuclear capability. Both Albright and Einhorn favor an approach that would still allow Iran the technical ability to “break out” in about 6-12 months, while Edelman and Ross seem to aim for a complete and perpetual end to any questions of an Iranian nuclear breakout. The ICG aims for an initial breakout period of nine months, followed by periods of six months and three months in the second and third phases of their proposed deal. Essentially, the four reports disagree on the extent of potential Iranian concessions. Albright and Einhorn argue that a final deal can best be secured by permitting Iran to retain certain enrichment and research capabilities that could technically allow it to put together a nuclear weapon in 6-12 months if it were cancel the agreement. In exchange for those capabilities, the two would aim to secure rigorous inspections and safeguards that would allow the international community to quickly detect any cheating and respond accordingly. The ICG seems to take an even more limited view of the concessions Iran will make and therefore arrives at a deal that starts with a nine-month breakout period and ends with a three-month breakout period.
Edelman and Ross take a different approach, arguing that a final deal ought to include “strict enough limits on Iran’s enrichment program to deny it nuclear weapons capability”. Albright, Einhorn, and the ICG concede that Iran already possesses the capability to produce a nuclear weapon should it so desire, and their proposals seek to lengthen the breakout time so as to deter Iran from cheating. Edelman and Ross instead seek to “roll back” the Iranian nuclear program to the extent that it would give up any nuclear weapons capability. Beyond sanctions relief, however, it is unclear what concessions Edelman and Ross are willing to make in service of such an ambitious goal.
In short, the ICG concedes the most, Edelman and Ross concede the least, and Albright and Einhorn espouse similarly moderate concessions in search of a final deal. Most importantly, Albright and Einhorn seem to be closest to the thinking of Secretary of State John Kerry, who recently testified that negotiators may be looking for a 6-12 month breakout period. This will presumably remain the goal of U.S. negotiators whether or not a final deal is completed by July 20. While an extension of the interim deal may embolden hardliners on both sides, the strategic calculus of the United States will remain oriented toward its goal—preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
Where Albright and Einhorn have realistic expectations as to how that goal might be attained, Edelman and Ross seem to believe that the U.S. can extract concessions from Iran without giving up anything in return. Meanwhile, the ICG makes concessions that would be hard to sell to Congress. To broker a final deal, the United States must put forward a credible, satisfactory proposal that the Iranians can also justify to their population and hardliners in the government. Proposals like that of Edelman and Ross merely give Iran an opportunity to complain about American implacability; the ICG’s approach gives American critics a chance to complain about the administration’s supposed fecklessness. Albright and Einhorn present more realistic proposals that are more likely to be amenable to all those involved.
Andrew Szarejko was a Spring 2014 intern at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. This was originally posted on May 7, 2014. It has since been updated to include information on the International Crisis Group’s proposal.