Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we speak with Ariane Tabatabai, an assistant professor at Georgetown University and frequent writer on Iran's nuclear program.
After months of exhausting negotiations, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany agreed on Thursday to a framework deal with Iran that would limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The controversial deal had been the subject of international debate. Proponents of the negotiations declared the talks a rare opportunity to bolster nuclear non-proliferation and take Western powers off a course that would end in conflict with Iran. Critics of the deal, which include Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States Republicans, were vocal that a bad deal would merely appease Iran while doing nothing to stop it from an end goal of nuclear armament.
The WorldPost spoke with nuclear proliferation expert Ariane Tabatabai, an assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown University and a columnist for the Bulletin of Atomic Nuclear Sciences, for her take on the agreement.
What is your general assessment of the framework deal?
I think it’s a really good deal for both sides. Both sides get what they’ve been pursuing this entire time, which for the P5 +1 means it will scale back Iran's enrichment program considerably –- essentially by two-thirds.
It also gives assurance Iran is not going to be building any new facilities for enrichment, and it's going to mean that the Arak heavy water reactor is going to be rebuilt to produce less plutonium.
I think it’s a really good deal for both sides.
Iran is not going to build any more heavy water reactors for the next 15 years. It’s not going to be doing any reprocessing, which means that plutonium wouldn’t be usable for a nuclear weapon. One of the sites that the arms control community has been worried about is going to be converted and used for research purposes; no enrichment will be done there.
That’s at Fordo?
That’s Fordo, yes. Then in terms of monitoring, which is a very big part of this, there’s going to be a lot more monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All of this should give a breakout time of about one year, which would allow the international community to detect Iran trying to get a bomb.
In exchange, Iran gets proliferation-related sanction relief, which it has been wanting, and it will get some assistance from the international community for research and development. Both sides are gaining a lot of what they’ve been wanting to gain, and both sides have made concessions. In my mind it’s a very good deal for both sides.
What potential spoilers are there that could derail a final deal being signed?
The biggest spoiler here in Washington is Congress. I’m expecting any second now they will come out and say this is a terrible agreement and the world has given Iran a nuclear weapon. Certainly people in the region -- the Saudis, the Israelis -- will support those claims.
The biggest spoiler here in Washington is Congress.
My biggest concern in the next three months as the negotiating parties move forward is going to be how to make sure that critics don’t interfere with the process, and don’t derail it altogether.
How might Iranian hardliners respond to the agreement?
Iranian hardliners have been fairly quiet in the past few months. The reason behind this is that the Supreme Leader has been coming out periodically with resonating endorsements of the negotiations and the negotiating team, and has framed the entire effort in terms of national security.
So the hardliners have lost a bit of ground, but that’s possible in the context of Iranian politics where the Supreme Leader can come out and back a process. I think the hardliners might come out with some criticism in the next few months, but I don’t think anything substantial enough to derail the process from the Iranian side.
Is the IAEA a strong enough institution to successfully act as a monitor of this deal?
Yes, but the problem is going to be financing. This is a really resource-intensive project. This is two decades of monitoring a number of facilities, and it’s going to need a number of people and equipment. It’s going to be a resource-intensive process, but that’s something that world powers are signing up for, as they'll need to.
In terms of the capacity, though, I have no doubts the IAEA will be able to uphold its part in the process.
What are some of the wider implications of this agreement on international security and Iran's status in the region?
In terms of what Iran's doing in countries like Iraq and Syria, it’s not going to change anything. Iran will continue to have the same threat perceptions and challenges and will respond to them in the same way. The fight against ISIS is not going to change because of a nuclear agreement.
I think that in terms of regional security, it’s not going to have a positive impact anytime soon.
The deal is not going to help the current dynamic between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been coming out very strongly against this process of quote-unquote normalization, and they’re very much worried about losing their privileged place with the U.S.
I think that in terms of regional security, it’s not going to have a positive impact anytime soon. That being said, in terms of international security, this is a great thing. This is a very important step for the non-proliferation regime, which has been suffering for a good step for a long time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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