The announcement in Lausanne, Switzerland, of parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear program marks a much-needed breakthrough. But the agreement still has to be properly enacted and fulfilled, and strategies will need to be put in place for when the deal expires.
Let's face it, the Obama administration appears to have pulled the proverbial rabbit out of a hat. Even as the public's expectations for a meeting of minds declined, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the other P5+1 negotiators persuaded their Iranian counterparts to consent to the public announcement of a major framework agreement to de-escalate nuclear tensions.
Even more noteworthy, the Iranian negotiators, led by their Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, were able to convince Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to grant his assent. That's no mean feat. The Supreme Leader - who must be consulted on major foreign policy decisions - has long shunned U.S. overtures, characterizing American diplomatic initiatives as ploys. His tacit endorsement was made crystal clear when a live transmission by Iran's official broadcaster showed U.S. President Barack Obama announcing the breakthrough at the White House. The Iranian public was delighted.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action's provisions envision Iran implementing a 67 percent reduction in active centrifuges and a 97 percent decline in uranium stockpiles for at least a decade. The plan necessitates fundamental redesign of reactors to avert the production of any weapons-grade plutonium. No stockpiling of heavy water and spent fuel can occur within the country. The plan also seeks to push back any nuclear weapons breakout capability from a few months to more than one year - so that fresh military moves can be detected and squashed before Tehran could assemble atomic warheads. Most important, the deal would require Iran to remain transparent about its indigenous nuclear progress and its foreign technology acquisitions for the next quarter century.
The terms are tough, at least on paper. Not unexpectedly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif worked hard to sell the deal to anti-American objectors at home by claiming fulfillment of the main condition publically laid down by Supreme Leader Khamenei: "Sanctions must be lifted after the nuclear deal." Their Twitter feeds went into overdrive, suggesting that the United States and European Union "will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions." State-run media also stressed that the deal was in the best interests of Iran economically and internationally. Iranians quickly celebrated en masse on the streets of major cities such as Tehran. For years Iranians have wanted not only relief from the daily hardships arising from sanctions, but also to enjoy broader interaction with the world, both electronically and in person.
This deal is not steeped in trust
Indeed, the deal will prove highly significant if the initial announcement's parameters are enshrined in a binding agreement - the text of which will need to be finalized over the next three months. If the forthcoming agreement does indeed contain all of the details announced, then an important step in reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions will have been accomplished. Yet no accord, even after ratification by the Iranian parliament as an international treaty, is an absolute guarantee against cheating.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action's parameters mandate that "if at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place." Verification that the Islamic Republic is abiding by every aspect of the nuclear deal will fall to the International Atomic Energy Agency. That international agency, however, by its own admission to date has received very little cooperation from its Iranian counterpart. In particular, Iran has provided scant accounting for activities like warhead detonator testing and simulated explosions, which suggest covert military dimensions to the overt nuclear energy program. Now Iran says it will indeed "grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites ... anywhere in the country." Yet its track record to date is one of broken promises regarding such access, even as facilities such as Parchin have been sanitized to prevent on-the-ground detection of atomic weapons development according to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.
So the keys to success over the long term will be cooperation and verification. Even President Obama was quick to note during his Rose Garden statement that the deal would work only "if fully implemented." After all, parties to the negotiations cannot but concur "this deal is not based on trust," as the American leader acknowledged.
Having obfuscated on its nuclear intensions and progress since 2002, the onus now falls squarely on the Islamic Republic to seize this opportunity and become completely transparent and fully compliant with international norms and expectations. If the Islamic Republic of Iran cooperates routinely with the International Atomic Energy Agency's verification teams, then the world should be delighted that Iran is re-entering the global arena as a responsible partner.
What happens after the deal expires is not being addressed, however. Ten to 25 years may seem like a long time. But the world has not been able to resolve the broader problem of nuclear proliferation since 1945, and Iran began its current drive toward nuclear power in 1988 - 27 years ago.
As it pursued nuclear capability, Iran also accumulated the largest, most, diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East - even heftier than that of Israel, though not yet as precise. It can continue mastering delivery of payloads - albeit conventional ones - in the near term. After the proposed agreement expires, Iran could then begin miniaturizing and assembling nuclear warheads for those missiles. Unless strategies are put into place while the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action prevails, the Islamic Republic will not be appropriately defanged. Ultimately, the world may end up back where it started: fearing the return of a nuclear Iran. And the Iranian people could fall back into economic and international isolation. So it would be prudent at this stage of the negotiations to lay out a clear nonproliferation path beyond the timeframe of the current deal.