A good nuclear deal with Iran would expand limitations and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and decreasing the risk of a costly, counterproductive war. From recent reports, such a deal could be within reach in the weeks ahead.
Rejecting a good deal would be a historic mistake that would greatly increase the likelihood of both war and an Iranian nuclear weapon. If negotiations fall apart neither sanctions nor military strikes can erase Iran’s nuclear know-how nor cut off Iran’s pathways to a bomb.
The following memo details measures that are likely to be included in a strong comprehensive nuclear deal, contrasted with the likely alternatives if negotiations fail or a final nuclear deal is rejected.
Iran’s “break out” capability under a likely deal would be one year. That is, Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile would be constrained, increasing the time it would take Iran to be able to enrich sufficient uranium for a single nuclear bomb to approximately twelve months. These limitations would likely include:
- A cap on enrichment at the 5% level.
- Clear limits on the number of centrifuges in operation and installed at various sites.
- A reduction in the number of centrifuges installed and in operation (Iran currently has approximately 20,000 centrifuges installed and 10,200 operating) and/or a reduction in the enrichment capacity of those centrifuges.
- Sharp limits on the size of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium and exports of the uranium stockpile to Russia for fabrication into nuclear fuel.
- Conversion of the deeply-buried Fordow facility from a large-scale enrichment site to a research and development site.
- Limits on the research and development of advanced centrifuges.
Iran would likely expand its nuclear program, eventually bringing its breakout closer to an undetectable period of just weeks or days. This expansion could include:
- A return to 20% enrichment, or even to the 60% level as the Iranian parliament proposed in 2013 in response to S.1881.
- Iran bringing online nearly 10,000 additional centrifuges, which are installed but not operating at its enrichment facilities, in short order.
- An ever-expanding stockpile of low-enriched uranium, medium-enriched uranium or even highly-enriched uranium.
- Continued and expanded enrichment at the deeply-buried Fordow site.
- No limitations on the research and development of advanced centrifuges, potentially resulting in industrial scale enrichment with those centrifuges.
Inspections & Verification
Enhanced monitoring and verification by the IAEA will be able to detect any overt Iranian violations of the agreement and any potential covert nuclear activities. Enhanced inspection and verification measures under a final deal would include:
- The continuation of daily monitoring of Iran’s enrichment facilities, established under the JPOA.
- Implementation and eventual ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, ensuring rapid access to suspect sites in order to detect potential covert nuclear activities.
- Intensified monitoring of the Arak reactor, Iran’s centrifuge production facilities, uranium mines and other nuclear facilities in order to guard against diversion of nuclear material and technology to covert nuclear sites.
- Cooperation with and eventual resolution of the IAEA’s investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.
Without a deal, monitoring and verification of the Iranian nuclear program drastically diminish as Iran’s nuclear program expands.
- Instead of daily monitoring as established under the JPOA, IAEA inspectors are permitted into enrichment facilities every week or two, at best.
- No implementation or ratification of the Additional Protocol, ensuring that the IAEA has limited access to any suspect sites.
- Limited or no monitoring of the Arak reactor, Iran’s centrifuge production facilities, uranium mines and other nuclear facilities, increasing the risk that nuclear material or technology is diverted to a covert facility without detection.
- No resolution of the IAEA’s investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear activities.
The Arak Reactor
Iran would not be able to maintain a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon because of limitations and enhanced oversight of the Arak reactor.
- A good deal would alter the power level and/or the design of the Arak reactor to drastically reduce the annual plutonium output of the facility.
- Iran would be prohibited from building a reprocessing facility under the deal, which would be necessary to separate the plutonium from spent reactor fuel in order for it to be used in nuclear weapons. Inspections would verify the absence of such a facility as well as the non-diversion of the spent fuel to a covert site.
Without a final nuclear deal, Iran would un-freeze nuclear work at the Arak reactor and race toward a potential plutonium pathway for a bomb.
- Without alterations to Arak under a final deal, the reactor could come online in a year and shortly produce sufficient plutonium for multiple nuclear weapons every year, though the plutonium would still need to be separated at a yet-to-be-constructed reprocessing facility.
- International inspectors would have reduced or no access to the Arak site, increasing concerns that the spent fuel produced by the facility could be diverted to a covert reprocessing facility.
- Arak’s advancement could speed up calls for war. Israel bombed similar facilities before they came online in Iraq in 1981 and in Syria in 2007.
Regional and Human Rights Benefits
A nuclear deal with Iran would offer substantial benefits to United States interests in the region as well as to human rights inside Iran. These would include:
- Expanded opportunities for U.S.-Iran collaboration on regional security issues, including against ISIS militants and on the security situation in Afghanistan.
- The easing and eventual lifting of nuclear sanctions that have punished the Iranian people more than the Iranian regime.
- The empowerment of moderates over hardliners in Iran and increased domestic political space for Iranians to push for improvements to the human rights situation.
Rejecting a deal would end hopes for greater regional coordination and undermine moderate political forces inside Iran. This would include:
- Pressing regional security issues in Iraq and Afghanistan would no longer be an area for potential coordination, but instead a theater for competition and escalation.
- The plight of the Iranian people under nuclear-related sanctions would intensify.
- Hardliners would regain the upper hand in Iran’s political elite, dashing hopes for moderation and an improvement in Iranian human rights.