Iran Experts: No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal

October 9, 2014

Last week, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), and Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on Iran nuclear program. The session, Are We Heading Towards a Bad Deal with Iran, featured David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, Mark Dubowitz of FDD, Olli Heinonen of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In addition to the full transcript and video of the event, FPI believes the following quotes will be helpful for policymakers, lawmakers, and the general public to understand the latest in negotiations with Iran.


U.S. Leverage in the Nuclear Talks

Mark Dubowitz emphasized that sanctions relief and a recovering Iranian economy have already weakened U.S. leverage in the negotiations. The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), as the interim deal signed in November 2013 is called, conceded at least four “bargaining chips” that the United States may no longer use:

  • Allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium, compared to prior UN Security Council resolutions requiring no enrichment;
  • Allowing Iran to continue developing new, advanced centrifuges, which increases the risk that Iran will develop clandestine enrichment facilities;
  • Excluding Iran’s ballistic missile program from the scope of the JPOA; and,
  • Agreeing that any comprehensive agreement will have a “sunset” and be limited in duration.

Key Quotes:

“We've given away those four major concessions as part of JPOA, and now we're negotiating with the Iranians over a comprehensive plan of action, having conceded four major chips that would be certainly good to have in our pockets involved in these negotiations.” – Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

“The decision to deescalate the sanctions pressure… and certainly bringing in a more competent economic team under Iranian President Rouhani… has led to an economy that’s no longer on its back.  It’s an economy that’s on its knees and getting up on to its feet.” – Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

“What concerns me is that the U.S. negotiating position has gone fundamentally from dismantle and disclose to what I would call today, disconnect, defer, and deter…  [In] January of this year, Jay Carney, White House briefing says, ‘It is the policy of this government that we will dismantle substantial portions of Iran’s nuclear program…’  And now we’re talking about these compromise ideas.” – Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

“There was a time when a U.S. administration negotiating over Iran’s civilian nuclear program suggested to the Iranians that they cannot have a completed fuel cycle, including plutonium and enrichment routes, and that their inspection modalities had to go way beyond the NPT.  That was the Ford administration with the Shah of Iran.” – Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Iran’s Negotiating Strategy

Ray Takeyh emphasized that the Iranian negotiating strategy has remained remarkably consistent throughout the talks, as Iran has defined its “red lines” for any prospective agreement and stuck to them.  Olli Heinonen and David Albright spoke to the risks of “creative solutions” that would conform to Iran’s red lines without fundamentally dismantling its nuclear program.

Key Quotes:

“[T]he Supreme Leader gave a speech where he sort of outlined his parameters, or his red lines…  No to shuttering any facilities. No to sending nuclear resources abroad… And no to an inspection modality that exceeds the NPT. So those were his red lines... The Joint Plan of Action conformed to those red lines.” – Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

“When you have 19,000 centrifuges, simple disconnection will buy you perhaps days, perhaps a week in break-out time... [T]he next step would be remove all the piping from the cascades… so perhaps you can buy, let’s be conservative, perhaps two months additional time by just removing the piping.  So the only solution here, if you want to have a break-up plan of one year or more, is actually to remove all the centrifuges and piping and put them in storage.” – Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency

“[P]art of the problem is that Iran, in a sense, hasn’t gotten it that this is not a negotiation over the price of a house.  We’re not looking for the middle here, where they have 190,000 centrifuges as their goal and we—and the U.S. wants 1,500, and we’ll just take the average.” – David Albright, President, Institute for Science and International Security


The Challenge of Verification

Olli Heinonen and David Albright emphasized that even if a comprehensive agreement with Iran is reached, it would be extremely difficult to verify Iran’s compliance.

Key Quotes:

“Iran has industrial uranium enrichment capacity and capability.  They have 19,000 centrifuges spinning, or ready to spin at Natanz and Fordow.  They have produced several tons of low-enriched uranium, up to 5 percent enriched, and they have produced more than 300 kilograms, 20 percent enriched uranium. They are manufacturing, in industrial scale, centrifuges… But at the same time, the IAEA has not been able to establish whether this is all the nuclear material Iran has.  IAEA has only verified what Iran has declared… Same is true with the centrifuge program.  We see those centrifuges which are there, but we don’t know how many additional ones there are in Iran.” – Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency

"[Y]ou want to be confident that any effort by Tehran to break out of its obligations will be so visible and time-consuming that the attempt would have no chance of success.” – David Albright, President, Institute for Science and International Security


Iran’s Domestic Abuses

Speakers emphasized that the government of Iran continues to deprive its citizens of their basic rights, and is a threat to the United States and its allies throughout the Middle East.  As such, the broader sanctions regime should remain in place regardless of the outcome of nuclear talks.

Key Quotes:

“[I]t is hard to suggest the government will abide by international norms when it violates domestic norms. Islamic Republic violates its own laws today about incarceration, human rights abuses. So it cannot be selectively compliant with international norms and international treaty obligations when it is -- practices the domestic abuses that it does and the regional subversion, which it is engaged in.” – Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

“[M]any of the sanctions that are in place were put in place because of Iran's overall illicit activities – its money-laundering; terror financing; its proliferation sensitive financing; its illicit procurement activities; its human rights abuses. And that these sanctions, particularly these hybrid sanctions, shouldn't just go away because of the nuclear deal.” – Mark Dubowitz, Executive Director, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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