Endgame in the Iran Negotiations: The Choice Is Tehran's

Iran needs to get off the fence and decide if it will make the compromises necessary to clinch an agreement.

Now that the Corker-Cardin legislation has been adopted without poison pills attached, it is virtually certain that Congress will be unable to block President Obama’s ability to conclude and begin implementing a nuclear agreement with Iran that he believes meets U.S. requirements. The main domestic impediment to a deal lies in Iran. If negotiations are to be brought to a successful conclusion, Supreme Leader Khamenei must decide that he wants an agreement, that he is willing to make the hard choices necessary to achieve one, and that he is prepared to use his authority to bring Iranian critics on board.

The Corker-Cardin bill, which was eventually embraced and signed into law by the President, establishes a process for Congress to review, vote on, and potentially reject an Iran nuclear agreement. A joint resolution of disapproval would prevent the Obama Administration from suspending statutory U.S. sanctions and therefore from implementing the agreement. However, many members of Congress regarded the bill not as a referendum on the emerging nuclear deal but as a vehicle for giving them a say on a highly consequential American international undertaking. If and when an agreement is sent to Congress, a sizable number are likely to support it as the most promising means of resolving the Iran nuclear issue peacefully.

Moreover, a joint resolution of disapproval can be vetoed by the President. Consequently, to scuttle the deal, opponents would need a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto. With the May 7 letter to the President from 151 House Democrats supporting the Iran nuclear negotiations, it appears Obama will have the one-third in the House needed to sustain his veto. If the final agreement preserves and successfully builds on the political framework reached by the P5+1 countries and Iran in Lausanne on April 2, the administration should also be able to garner the support of at least the 34 Members required to prevent a veto override in the Senate.

Senator Ted Cruz, a strong opponent of the emerging nuclear deal, conceded as much. Referring to the Corker bill, he said “it is a virtual certainty that, no matter how terrible this deal is, it will go into effect and this legislation is unlikely to stop it.”

The Lausanne Framework: A Promising Foundation

Actually, the emerging nuclear deal is not terrible at all. The Lausanne framework indicates that the Obama administration is well on its way to achieving its main negotiating objectives:

·      A combination of constraints—including reductions from more than 9,000 to just over 5,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, from over 19,000 to around 6,000 installed centrifuges, and from around 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms of enriched uranium—will increase the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon to at least one year for a period of at least ten years.

·      The re-design of the Arak heavy water reactor, the requirement to send its spent fuel out of Iran, and the ban on reprocessing facilities will effectively block the plutonium path to a nuclear weapon.

·      Far-reaching verification arrangements—including adherence to the IAEA Additional Protocol, continuous surveillance of key elements of the uranium and centrifuge supply chain, and a monitored procurement channel—will provide confidence in the ability to deter and detect covert Iranian activities.

What is publicly known about the Lausanne framework comes mainly from a U.S.-issued fact sheet as well as from a European Union-Iranian joint statement that was short on details at Iran’s insistence. Although the Iranians have complained that the U.S. fact sheet is highly selective and one-sided in featuring those elements of the framework most favorable to the United States, the Americans assert that Iran agreed to everything in the fact sheet—and Iranian negotiators do not dispute that claim.

Indeed, as hinted at in the fact sheet, more has been agreed than has been made public.  For example:

·      The fact sheet states that “Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.” Such constraints would prevent Iran from gaining full confidence in the performance of advanced centrifuges during the agreement’s initial ten years, requiring Iran to carry out additional research and development after ten years and delaying the operational deployment of the more efficient machines.