Ideas. Action. Results.

What to Look for in a Nuclear Deal with Iran

By Blaise Misztal

Monday, March 30, 2015

Across multiple administrations from both political parties, the primary objective of U.S. policy toward Iran has been to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. To achieve that objective, any diplomatic agreement with Iran will have to address a range of issues, dealing not just with constraints on Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, monitoring of Iran’s compliance with the deal, the duration of an agreement, the status of Iran’s current legal obligations and the structure of sanctions relief.

Several factors will make it difficult to evaluate whether an agreement lives up to the widely accepted but ill-defined standard of “no deal is better than a bad deal.” First, many of the issues are highly technical in nature, requiring an expertise in nuclear engineering to determine how quickly Iran might be able to breakout with a given combination of centrifuge number and type and stockpile amount. Second, the strength of the deal will depend on how all of these elements come together—no matter how stringent the restrictions on Iran’s enrichment program, for example, they will be rendered largely meaningless if they are not matched with a robust inspections regime—making it difficult to judge a deal before it is revealed in its totality. For this reason, BPC has recommended the creation of a congressional mandated independent, bipartisan panel, with members selected by both parties and both the executive and legislative branches, to offer a credible and objective assessment of the final deal.

Nevertheless, there are certain questions that should be asked of any deal and set principles that should guide any analysis of it. As described in BPC’s guide to a “good deal,” a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear Iran should include:

  • enough mechanisms to allow the United States and others to detect any attempts made by Iran to sprint for a nuclear weapon with sufficient time to act to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material to fabricate a weapon;
  • extensive and wide-ranging inspections for detecting repeated Iranian efforts to build covert nuclear facilities;
  • a long-term duration that is predicated on actual, meaningful changes in Iranian behavior;
  • transparency on Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs;
  • and a satisfactory resolution of Iran’s outstanding legal obligations vis-à-vis both the United Nations Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency.

KEYWORDS: 114TH CONGRESS, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, IRAN, JOINT PLAN OF ACTION, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL

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