Time Is on Our Side

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Time Is on Our Side

Negotiations between Iran and the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council (P5+1) are developing into a sustained diplomatic process, with more talks in Moscow next month. This is a positive development, because one-off meetings have failed in the past and because economic and political pressure is ratcheting up on Iran to reach a deal, with more sanctions coming into force this summer. Time is on our side, not Iran’s, as the pressure building against Iran and the diplomatic negotiations are moving at a faster pace than Iran’s progress toward the capability to build not just a weapon but also a missile to deliver it.

After opening gambits, diplomacy takes next step. Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council explains the track and timeline of diplomatic negotiations: “Diplomacy was always going to be challenging; making progress means tackling the thorniest issues that have divided the two sides for years. In that sense, these negotiations represent a small step forward in a delicate process that will unfold over months rather than days or weeks. Both sides entered negotiations with their maximalist positions, and neither budged. This is common to any negotiation. By returning to the negotiating table, diplomacy becomes the sustained process it was always supposed to be rather than the one-off meetings that have existed to date. Now the hard work begins: finding an agreement that can be sold to the respective domestic political constituencies. Talks will continue at the working level and reconvene at the political level in Moscow after confidence-building measures and sequencing are agreed upon. There is no other way to find a peaceful resolution to this crisis.” [Reza Marashi, 5/30/12]

Economic and political pressure – real and imminent. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy deLeon, Brian Katulis and Peter Juul of the Center for American Progress describe the increasing pressure that the Iranian regime faces in light of sanctions that are scheduled to take effect in the coming weeks: “U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank will go into effect on June 28, while an EU embargo on Iranian oil will start on July 1. The imminent imposition of this harsh set of international economic restrictions on Iran’s central financial institution and major export serves to heighten the pressure on the Iranian regime to strike a deal with the P5+1 addressing international concerns about its nuclear program. Should the talks in Moscow fail to produce an agreement acceptable to the P5+1, Iran will face severe economic consequences. As a result, in the next round of talks, Iran’s interests will be more to come to an agreement that averts the implementation of sanctions than in stalling talks. Tehran’s clock to avoid sanctions is now moving faster than its nuclear program is progressing, giving the P5+1 greater negotiating leverage as it seeks to bring international accountability to Iran’s nuclear efforts.” [CAP, 5/25/12]

Nuclear clock: not as fast as the political clock. Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council reports on an assessment by David Albright, former IAEA nuclear inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS): “Iran’s progress toward bomb capacity is not as fast as some have feared and there is ample time for more talking, according to David Albright, president and founder of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. Albright told an audience at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday that ‘the technical clock is not ticking as fast’ as the ‘political clock.’ The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Iranian nuclear program shows that Iran is still having trouble building more advanced centrifuges than the breakdown-prone P-1 centrifuge, which is based on a Dutch design from the 1970s that was passed to Iran by the Pakistani nuclear black market king A.Q. Khan. Iran also appears to be having difficulty getting materials for the P-1s. Of more than 2,000 centrifuge casings installed earlier this year at the underground Fordow plant near Qom, only a few hundred have had rotor assemblies installed in them, Albright said. While Iran theoretically has enough low-enriched uranium already to make five nuclear weapons, Albright said Iran would be caught within two-to-four weeks by IAEA inspectors if it tried to divert this material to make weapons-grade uranium. He said there was ‘little chance Iran will break out in 2012’ and probably well into 2013.” [Barbara Slavin, 5/29/12]

Missile technology: even longer timeline. In addition to the development of a nuclear weapon, Iran also lacks the delivery system for such a weapon.  Experts at the Center for American Progress explain, “Iran would also need a warhead with a delivery system such as a missile, and it needs at least one to two years to develop a warhead and delivery system suitable for operational use, according to estimates from the U.S. intelligence community, Israeli military intelligence, and outside groups such as the Institute for Science and International Security. So even if Iran acquired a functioning nuclear weapon today, the soonest it could successfully deliver a weapon to a target is early 2014. Iran’s missile capabilities generally lag behind its nuclear developments. Its most advanced missile—the solid-fuel Sejjil-2—is not yet operational and in any case is not believed to be a suitable nuclear delivery system unless used with a substantially smaller nuclear warhead than Iran is believed capable of producing. Experts from the U.S.-Russian joint technical assessment team and the International Institute for Strategic Studies believe an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile is not likely to be produced before the 2020s.” [CAP, 5/29/12]


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Commentary of the Day

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