Report: Battleground Issues on Iran Deal

August 13, 2015
Despite imperfections, the Iran nuclear deal “will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state for the foreseeable future,” according to Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former member of President Obama’s Iran negotiating team. “The questions and concerns raised by the battleground issues can be addressed by U.S. policies that supplement the deal and bolster its overall effectiveness,” he notes in a new Brookings brief that addresses six key questions in the debate over the deal. The following are excerpts with a link to the full text.
1. What happens to Iran’s nuclear program after the deal’s first decade?
An issue likely to receive much attention, deservedly so, is what happens in the “out years”—the later years of the deal, when some key restrictions on Iran’s enrichment capacity begin to expire. JCPOA limits will ensure that, at least for 10 years, Iran would need at least one year to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a bomb, if it decides to breach the agreement. But as Iran becomes free to increase the number of operating centrifuges and introduce more advanced types (after 10 years) and to increase its enrichment level and stocks of enriched uranium (after 15 years), breakout time will decrease and eventually shrink to a matter of weeks—leaving Iran with a “threshold” nuclear weapons capability. …
Even if Iranian leaders, after 15 years or more, believed their national interests were best served by having nuclear weapons, they would run major risks in going forward, with no guarantee of success. Even in the ‘out years,’ the JCPOA’s rigorous monitoring arrangements will remain in force. The world will have gained intimate knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program, which would give the United States prompt warning of any Iranian effort to make a dash for the bomb. Even if breakout time had declined to a few weeks, the United States would likely have sufficient time to intervene militarily to stop them.
2. How does the deal address concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear work?
Another battleground issue involves persistent IAEA efforts, long frustrated by Iranian stonewalling, to gain a better understanding of past Iranian research, experimentation, and procurement believed to be related to the development of nuclear weapons. On July 14, 2015, Iran and the IAEA agreed on a “roadmap” aimed at resolving all outstanding issues related to the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. …
Iran’s completion of all agreed roadmap steps by October 15 is a prerequisite—along with Iran’s implementation of several other nuclear-related commitments—for the suspension of U.S., EU, and U.N. sanctions. The confidential nature of Iran’s roadmap steps reflects the IAEA’s standard practice of confidentiality on safeguards matters, but this has understandably caused a stir on Capitol Hill, especially because sanctions relief depends on fulfillment of those steps.
3. Is IAEA access to sensitive sites timely enough?
Another battleground issue that has gained prominence in recent weeks is whether the JCPOA’s provisions on IAEA access to suspect sites—beyond those declared sites that will be subject to continuous verification—can effectively deter and detect covert violations of the agreement. The text of the agreement has largely put to rest concerns that the IAEA might be denied access to such suspect sites—concerns heightened by statements from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that access to military sites would cross one of his redlines. The JCPOA’s provisions for resolving access disputes—under which a Joint Commission can, by majority vote, require Iran to grant access or face the Security Council’s restoration of sanctions—provide assurance that Tehran cannot get away with blocking access to any location in the country. …
In the absence of no-notice, surprise inspections—which have only been achieved in a case like Iraq, where the Security Council was in a position to dictate terms to a defeated country—no inspection system can reliably ensure on-site confirmation of small-scale, non-nuclear activities. Even a system requiring access to be granted in a week or even several days, which some of the critics advocate, could not provide such assurance. The inspection system established under the JCPOA is not perfect, but it is timely enough to prevent the removal or concealment of incriminating evidence of the kind of illicit activities that would be of greatest concern and would most significantly lessen Iran’s breakout time.
4. What is the significance of restrictions on conventional arms transfers and ballistic missile activities?
An issue that was only resolved in the final days of negotiations and has become controversial since then is the question of restrictions on Iran’s export and import of conventional arms and on its ballistic missile program. These restrictions were part of the Security Council sanctions in place prior to the conclusion of the JCPOA. Iran, supported by Russia and China, pressed for eliminating them at the same time other Security Council sanctions are removed, but the United States insisted on preserving them in a new council resolution. A compromise was reached on their duration, with the conventional arms embargo lasting five more years and the ballistic missile restrictions lasting eight more years. …
Even after the renewed Security Council restrictions expire, the United States will have other legal authorities and policy tools to address Iranian arms transfers to its proxies and imports of sensitive technologies. Existing U.N. embargoes on transfers to Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis, and Shiite militants in Iraq require U.N. members to prevent prohibited transfers from or through their territory. Other available policy tools include the Proliferation Security Initiative which facilitates international cooperation in interdicting illicit transfers, U.S. sanctions laws which target certain Iranian conventional arms and missile activities, and the Missile Technology Control Regime which coordinates the missile export policies of the major missile supplying governments, including Russia.
5. What are the implications of sanctions relief, including release of $100-plus billion in restricted assets?
The nuclear deal’s provisions on sanctions relief have generated many important questions—including whether relief would be conditioned on Iran’s performance, whether major and early relief would forfeit too much leverage needed to incentivize continued Iranian compliance, whether sanctions can be restored in the event of non-compliance, and whether Iran will be penalized for behavior outside the nuclear realm.
Obama administration officials have addressed many of these questions—not to the full satisfaction of the deal’s critics but enough to allay some of the most serious concerns. They have pointed out that, under the nuclear deal:
  • Sanctions relief will follow, not precede, Iran’s implementation of key nuclear commitments.
  • Existing sanctions for non-nuclear-related Iranian behavior (e.g., support for terrorism, human rights abuses) will remain in force, and additional sanctions can be imposed, including on entities no longer sanctioned for nuclear reasons.
  • A substantial number of entities on the U.S. sanctions list will remain on the list for eight years or indefinitely (including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—IRGC—and its regional arm, the Quds Force, and various military and missile entities).
  • Foreign banks and other entities dealing with those that remain on the sanctions list will be subject to being cut off from the U.S. financial system.
  • U.S. sanctions can be restored in a matter of days if Iran violates its commitments, and Security Council sanctions can be snapped back automatically within 30 days if a single JCPOA party charges Iran with significant non-performance of its commitments.
  • Entities that legally enter into contracts before the snap-back of Security Council sanctions will be subject to sanctions if they do not stop or wind down the implementation of any such contracts covered by the restored sanctions. Contrary to an impression created by convoluted language in the JCPOA text, those contracts will not be grandfathered.

  • 6. What are the consequences of rejecting the deal?
    [I]n the worst case, congressional rejection could thrust the United States into a damaging standoff, threatening and possibly imposing sanctions against the world’s leading economies in the uncertain hope of forestalling a rapid hemorrhaging of oil sanctions. In the best case, the United States could win grudging support for token additional reductions. But the likelihood of persuading Iran’s principal customers to accept dramatic new cuts in purchases—on a scale that could pressure Iran to make major concessions it has been unwilling to make under the devastating sanctions it has faced for years—is extremely small, especially when all those customers view the negotiated deal as reasonable and would resent Washington’s decision to walk away from it.
    Meanwhile, the United States would be trying to maintain existing sanctions in areas other than crude oil. It would be assisted in this effort by the cautious approach many entities could be expected to take when considering whether to buck the current sanctions regime. Major international banks might be especially guarded, fearing a cutoff from the U.S. financial system if they ran afoul of U.S. sanctions.
    Click here for the full text.