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May 16, 2014

Bad Deal-Making With Iran

Leaving a nuclear-armed Iran is a bad idea, but it’s becoming more likely.

The second day of talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany) concluded Thursday in Vienna with little fanfare and with officials on both sides remaining tight-lipped about the proceedings. The two sides have two more rounds of talks scheduled with eyes on the July 20 deadline, but already there appear to be several major hurdles to reaching a comprehensive agreement. If the two sides cannot agree on a new deal, the November interim agreement will expire and both sides will be back where they were a year ago.

The two major sticking points once again appear to be Iran’s centrifuge enrichment program and its ballistic missile programs. As we have noted before, any agreement that leaves Iran with an industrial-scale enrichment program also leaves it with a direct path to nuclear weapons. For that reason the P5+1 must demand Iran reduce its existing centrifuge program and submit to even tighter International Atomic Energy Agency controls over its stockpile of enriched uranium. Good luck with that – it was the very issue of uranium enrichment that started the standoff back in 2003. The Iranian regime has also made enrichment, and the entire nuclear program, a matter of national pride over Iran’s technical achievements, which will make it that much harder for them to accept major limitations. But the P5+1 must hold the line on this issue, the foundation upon which rests the remainder of Iran’s nuclear program.

Regarding Iran’s missile programs, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei left little room for doubt over his position: “They expect us to limit our missile program while they constantly threaten Iran with military action. So this is a stupid, idiotic expectation. … The Revolutionary Guards should definitely carry out their program and not be satisfied with the present level. They should mass produce. This is a main duty of all military officials.”

Iran’s missile programs were originally sanctioned under UNSCR 1929 in June 2010, which forbade “undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.” Since virtually all of Iran’s missiles, including even the 1960s-vintage SCUD-C, can theoretically carry a nuclear warhead, Iran again sees itself being asked to give up the farm. Additionally, Iran’s nascent space program and its Safir rocket would likely also have to be given up, and it brings almost as much national pride as the nuclear program.

The negotiations will continue through the summer, and will likely include numerous twists and turns. But the P5+1 – especially the Obama administration – must resist the temptation to accept a watered-down deal just for the sake of claiming success. Iran has been playing rope-a-dope with the UN for 11 years now, buying time while its nuclear program matured and went underground. Iran must not be rewarded (again) with another agreement just for the sake of agreeing.

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