Washington, DC – “Is a nuclear deal still possible? The deal is of course possible –but is it likely? Not anytime soon,” according to Michael Adler at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Monday. Adler examined the current standoff between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear program, along with the West’s demand that Iran give up uranium enrichment activities.
Adler stated that “according to U.S intelligence estimates, if Iran decided to expel IAEA inspectors from their nuclear facilities, it will take them between 18 months to two years to develop their first nuclear weapon. And this estimate is the basis of U.S diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear dossier.” Iran has managed to enrich 2500kg of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) that would effectively enable them to produce two bombs. Until recently, one of the top priorities of US diplomacy has been to remove a significant amount of that uranium from Iran, in the form of a fuel swap.
The fuel swap proposal between the P5+1 and Iran last October was, according to Adler, “a confidence building measure to facilitate further negotiations.” Adler noted the proposal was “principally” agreed to by Iran’s negotiator, but due to Iran’s internal political paralysis, certain conservative factions convinced the Supreme Leader to scuttle the deal fearing that it would have been seen as giving in too much to the US.
In response to the failed October deal, the Iranians defiantly commenced enrichment to 20 percent in spite of the west’s opposition. “The leap to 20 percent is really a significant leap” toward weapons grade uranium, Adler said, “more than the numbers might indicate.” Nevertheless, Adler pointed out that “Iranian officials say they are willing to back off from enriching to 20 percent if the fuel rods are given to them by the West. They prefer to buy the 20 percent rather than producing it domestically.” Iran’s fundamental goal is to be allowed to continue enriching uranium to the level permitted by international law, he said, while continuing to operate the Tehran Research Reactor for producing medical isotopes.
According to Adler, the only leverage Washington currently can employ to induce a behavior change in Tehran is by spearheading international punitive measures coupled with imposing comprehensive unilateral sanctions. “The U.S and its allies think that at least six months of increased sanctions will be needed before there can be a hope that the Iranians will change their behavior. But the key is that there is flexibility on both sides –flexibility enhanced, I believe, by the fact that things are coming slowly to a head” added Adler.
Adler believes that there is enough groundwork for a deal to be reached. Neither Iran nor the U.S are enthusiastic about a war that may be looming on the horizon. “The U.S clearly wants to avoid being forced to choose between war for stopping Iran from building a bomb or having to accept the Iranian bomb. Iran also may calculate that a deal is better than risking economic collapse” he said. In sum, Adler argues there is sufficient amount of time to exhaust all other diplomatic avenues before considering more drastic measures, such as a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.