Breakthrough on Iran: President Obama Defies Odds, Defines the True Audacity of Hope

Speaking from the Rose Garden, President Obama lays out the details of a historic framework with Iran that will prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon. April 2, 2015.

As Vice President Biden would say, this is a big fucking deal.

This morning, outlines were announced for a deal between Iran and global powers led by the United States that would address Iran's nuclear program - effectively cutting it down by two-thirds and then freezing it for at least 15 years, as well as putting a nuclear weapon out of Iran's reach for at least that amount of time. In what is likely to be a superbly effective enforcement and inspection regime, Iran's nuclear program will be completely open to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which can at any time demand to investigate any facility in Iran, regardless of whether Iran discloses said facility, and regardless of whether Iran classifies the facility as having any link to their nuclear program.

The full outlines are available at the State Department website, but here are the key details that make this deal a historic, breakthrough and yet concrete and quantifiable agreement towards neutralizing the threat of a potentially nuclear Iran.

More than Just Lofty goals: Measurable and Severe Reduction in Iran's Nuclear Capacity

Under the agreement, Iran has agreed to the following:

  • No weapons grade uranium for at least 15 years: Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent, which would foreclose Iran's capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, for 15 years. In plain English, this level of enrichment would allow Iran to pursue nuclear power, but nothing else. Iran will also destroy or remove the core of the only reactor in the country that could have been used to produce weapons.
  • 97% (!!!) reduction in current uranium stock: Iran's current stock of 10,000 kilograms of enriched uranium will be reduced to 300 kg of non-weapons grade uranium.
  • Two-thirds reduction in centrifuges: The number of centrifuges will be reduced from 19,000 to approximately 6,000, with only 5,000 capable of enriching uranium for 10 years, and even those will be only first-gen centrifuges.
  • Excess uranium and centrifuge to be used only as replacement material: After the above two reductions, the excess centrifuges and uranium will be stored under IAEA supervision and can only be used as replacement for operating centrifuges and uranium.
  • Only one enrichment facility: Even the limited allowed enrichment for producing power can only be done at a single, monitored facility in Iran, the facility in Natanz, Iran.

Tightly Built Verification of Compliance: No Sanctions Relief Until Compliance is Satisfactory

While the sanctions regime on Iran will be somewhat relaxed in the event of Iran's compliance with all of the above, there is no relief whatsoever until Iran actually proves its compliance. The outline builds a strong verification system with inspectors from the UN's IAEA given wide authority to inspect and confirm Iran's compliance. IAEA's inspectors will have:

  • The authority to verify and continuously monitor compliance with above methods: IAEA inspectors will monitor and verify compliance at all of Iran's nuclear facilities, declared or undeclared, regardless of whether such facilities actually enrich uranium (of which there will only be one). Minimum of 15 years, IAEA's authority to continuously surveil certain cites will extend to 25 years.
  • Transparent access to Iran's nuclear supply line: This will guard against Iran's ability to develop a program in secret. The IAEA will also on a case-by-case basis approve (or deny) supplies, sale or transfer to Iran of nuclear-related and dual-purpose material.
  • Safeguard excess centrifuges and uranium: The facilities storing the excess centrifuges and uranium will be under direct IAEA supervision, as well as any centrifuge-related infrastructure Iran has.
  • Investigate any place, any time: Iran is required to grant access to IAEA investigators to any facility that suspected of or even alleged to being a covert nuclear facility of any kind.

Not only are UN's inspectors consistently proven effective and reliable (they would be the reason why we couldn't find any WMDs in Iraq - they did their job and destroyed them), the IAEA's enforcement standards are strict and the agency has been highly effective in implementing its missions. For a contextual example, the border inspection regime of the IAEA has already proven a significant deterrent to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Sanctions Relief After AND Only So Long as Iran is Compliant

The US-led sanctions regime under the President Obama have been highly effective in impeding Iran's nuclear trajectory - so much so that even strident opponents of any international nuclear deal with Iran have framed their argument as a plea not to suspend those very sanctions.

  • Compliance first: Under this potential deal, the sanctions and nuclear-related UN Security Council resolutions against Iran will not only not be relaxed until after Iran's compliance has been verified (and then only the nuclear-related sanctions), they will instantly snap back into place should Iran even slightly fall out of compliance at any time.
  • UNSC resolution: A new UN Security Council resolution - little keeps which from being passed since all five veto-yielding members were party to the negotiations that produced these outlines - will incorpore core provisions of transfer of nuclear technologies and materials as well creating the aforementioned authorities of the IAEA inspection and monitoring regime.
  • Dispute resolution to err on the side of sanctions: If dispute arises within parties and cannot be resolved, all previous sanctions go back into place. In other words, unless Iran can satisfy the IAEA and all parties that it is verifiably complying with its obligations, it loses by default.

A Giant Step Towards Peace

There is no such thing as complete certainly in geopolitics or in life, but 'airtight' is a word that most closely resembles the deal that this outline describes. This deal effectively and verifiably strips Iran of any capacity to build a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years, and probably much longer beyond that. If Iran complies fully, it may well find that the cooperation of the international community of nations is much more lucrative than pursuing symbolic nuclear weapon capacity and threatening Israel.

This deal effectively ends the threat not just of a nuclear Iran but of proliferation of weapons or weapons grade technology or material ending up in the hands of terrorists. It not only averts the treat of nuclear war in the middle east but also deflates the possibility of a dirty bomb going off somewhere in New York - at least one coming from the Iranians.

President Obama - and Secretary Kerry - are to be given immense credit for their patient yet deliberate guidance of this process and insistence on fair but tough standards for Iran to comply with. As the president reminded the nation in his remarks today, the negotiators' job isn't yet done, but the progress they have made is impressive, historic, and in the national security interest of the United States.

Around the world and across the political spectrum (globally, at least) the framework is being hailed. From the USA Today's description of the progress as 'historic' to the Economist's grudging admission that they once again underestimated the Obama administration's ability to deliver, observers are pleasantly surprised. Countries from Germany to Great Britain, from Russia to Italy celebrated. Even the Huffington Post, which often attacks Obama as a corporate warmonger, hailed the President for proving that peace is possible.

Republicans in Congress are fuming at their powerlessness to stop the agreement, and Israeli Prime Minister and Global Neocon hero Bibi Netanyahu is displeased at the prospect of peace, but we are where we are because once again, we have a president and an administration that doesn't think it enough to give peace merely lip service. Contrary to the naivety they are often accused of, they are too keenly aware of the dangers in the world, and of the need for America's leadership and tough, fair and effective diplomacy to keep those threats from throwing our world into chaos.

As President Obama has said so many times, the audacity of hope isn't about blind euphoria, it is about the deep belief in and the relentless work to make that which seems too difficult, possible.

I have said before that if anyone can reach a peaceful deal to defuse the Iranian nuclear threat, it would be President Obama. And this president and his administration has come through again. Once again, as has been the history of his career and his work, this President embarked on an improbably journey, and now looks to have pulled it off.

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