Iran-P5+1 Framework Agreement: Some Answers, More Questions

On Monday, April 13, JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy hosted a panel event to assess the “Framework Agreement” announced by Iran and members of the P5+1 on April 2, and to roll out its latest report and brief highlighting issues that must still be resolved for any deal to prevent a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.

On Monday, April 13, JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy hosted a panel event to assess the “Framework Agreement” announced by Iran and members of the P5+1 on April 2, and to roll out its latest report and brief highlighting issues that must still be resolved for any deal to prevent a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. The event featured the co-chair of the Gemunder Center’s Iran Task Force Ambassador Eric Edelman, Gemunder Center Iran Task Force members John Hannah and Dr. Ray Takeyh, and Gemunder Center Associate Director Jonathan Ruhe.

The following quotes are excerpted from the full video of the event.

What are your initial reactions to the agreement and how it was reached?

“I think what we can take away from this is there is in fact no real agreement on the framework. What we have are factsheets: one by the State Department, one by the Iranians, and others. There are fairly serious differences among the parties as to what exactly has been agreed. That allows lots of scope for mischief and difficulty between now and July 1.

“It is clear that not everything has been agreed, even if you accept the factsheets as sacrosanct. There’s no agreement on the pace and scope of sanctions relief, there clearly is not detailed agreement about what becomes of the low-enriched uranium stockpiles above 300 kilograms, and there clearly is not agreement about whether past military dimensions of the program will be addressed, nor on the terms of verification. What this means is that a number of the major concerns we addressed in the document we released today can now be renegotiated and re-litigated.”

-Amb. Eric Edelman

“There’s a real question of on whose behalf in Iran Foreign Minister Zarif is negotiating an agreement. I think today we have a situation where there’s real doubt about whether the negotiating team actually represents the will of the Supreme Leader. If that’s true, do you really want to enter negotiations with someone who doesn’t represent his boss? … There is a real question in my mind today whether the Iranian system is working. The only way to assess what Khamenei thinks is to listen to what he actually says.”

-Dr. Ray Takeyh

“Even if you concede that what’s in the factsheets has been agreed, I think it looks very dangerous and risky – it looks on its face to be the definition of a bad deal. If we accept the 10-15-year sunset clause, the President even acknowledged that there is nothing stopping Iran from getting to zero breakout time in 13 or so years. All while remaining the lead state sponsor of terrorism and continuing to view the United States as their main adversary who needs to be driven out of the Middle East.

“The kinds of sanctions relief Iran will get under this deal, even if it’s not all sanctions removed at signing, it looks to me that once Iran begins to comply with some of the main strictures on centrifuges, stockpile size, new inspections – all within a very short amount of time – most sanctions will be suspended and Iran will have access to tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in frozen funds and new investments and trade. After this deal starts, I think there’s a very high probability Iran will redouble their efforts to destabilize the region and assert their hegemony. I think that’s an unacceptable risk for an American superpower engaged in a nuclear negotiation with a developing power under a lot of underlying constraints and weaknesses. Finally, I think it’s much greater than 50 percent probability that Iran accelerates its destabilizing activities after a deal, and thus we’ll see other states in the region move in the direction of their own nuclear capabilities.”

-John Hannah

“The deal is being sold in the United States as shutting off Iran’s four pathways to a bomb: a breakout using uranium (at Natanz or Fordow) or plutonium, or via a sneakout. The factsheets raise concerns about whether a final deal could accomplish all this. On the technical side, the breakout options would be constricted by certain limits on enrichment capacity at Natanz and Fordow, and on the design of its heavy water reactor at Arak, but all these concessions appear to be minimal and reversible. Moreover, the sneakout option couldn’t be precluded, since it doesn’t look like Iran will have to come clean on past military dimensions of its nuclear program, plus there could be significant loopholes in the putative verification regime.

“Then you also have the political side of shutting off all the pathways to a bomb. Even if you agree with the Administration’s goal of rolling back Iran’s breakout time to one year, the minimal and reversible nature of Iran’s concessions as outlined in the factsheets makes it more important that the P5+1 be able to detect any violations indisputably and respond to them promptly. As this Task Force’s report from last month argues, there’s a host of reasons you couldn’t credibly do this, and thus you couldn’t be confident of actually preventing Iran from going down these paths.”

-Jonathan Ruhe

“If this agreement is reached, and if there is an Iranian violation, we will not schedule the first deputies committee meeting to consider it within the twelve-month time period of the framework.”

-Amb. Eric Edelman

What can, or should, the United States do differently?

“The President should try to get the support of the American people’s representatives and not just deal with this purely by executive action, especially since much of what is at issue are things Congress enacted in statute law and which presumably would need to be repealed. … Unless there’s Congressional buy-in, there’s no reason to believe a final deal would survive a transition of power in 2017, regardless of who’s elected as the next President.

“It would be truly anomalous if this deal is concluded and the Iranian parliament and U.N. Security Council get to vote on it, but the American people’s elected representatives don’t.”

-Amb. Eric Edelman

“I suspect the Iranian negotiators are quite prepared to do what they’ve done every step of the way, which is to use deadlines to the disadvantage of the United States. There’s an unevenness in terms of the actual leverage used by each side. The Iranians have used the U.S. Congress against Kerry, not the other way around, by arguing Congressional measures will be destructive to a deal.

“Since November, everybody knew Iran had to ship out its enriched uranium stockpiles. On one of the last days of negotiations, Iran said they wouldn’t ship anything out and that they’ve told the United States that all along. That’s not true – Iran was reneging on a commitment they’d made – but even more disturbing, the State Department covered up for Iran on this issue. At that moment, every official in Iran knew if they violated their pledges for a deal, the State Department would cover for them. Kerry should have called them out on a transparent violation of the promises Iran had already made months before to the P5+1.”

-Dr. Ray Takeyh

“I think the moves we’ve been seeing from the Administration to support our Arab allies is linked to the timing of the Iran agreement, to trying to sell it to the Saudis and Egyptians and others. I think broadly speaking, at least since Syria violated the President’s red line on chemical weapons in 2013, there are serious doubts of whether the United States is reliable. It’s hard to think what the Administration could do – something really compelling in Syria to resolve the crisis in theory might do it, but the probability of that happening is close to zero. … The ability of the United States to shape and influence the strategic thinking of our allies in the region has been very dangerously compromised.”

-John Hannah