By David Daoud
Former top US officials have said that one year would provide insufficient warning-time to detect an Iranian reversal on a nuclear agreement and take action against the violations. The assessment contradicts the Obama Administration’s official position.
This estimation, put forward by former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Deputy Director-General for Safeguards at the IAEA Olli Heinonen, and former State Department Official Ray Takeyh is more in line with Israel’s assessment on the time it would take for the world to act if Iran decided to violate a nuclear deal and sprint towards the creation of a bomb.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, the three officials noted that Secretary Kerry’s defense of the current agreement under negotiation with Iran boiled down to the claim that, “the terms will leave Iran at least a year away from obtaining a nuclear bomb, thus giving the world plenty of time to react to infractions.”
Despite the seemingly reassuring nature of Kerry’s assertion, the trio noted that, “a careful assessment, however, reveals that a one-year breakout time may not be sufficient to detect and reverse Iranian violations.”
The United States would have to initiate a lengthy bureaucratic process to validate any suspected Iranian violation, which could take months before the director of national intelligence was assured of one’s existence. That information would have to be reviewed by several tiers of US intelligence agencies, and only then could the DNI submit his suspicions to the White House.
The White House would then have to forward the information to the IAEA, which is in charge of on-site inspections, a process which would be slowed down “by the need to protect sensitive or technical sources of information.”
The IAEA would then have to engage the Iranians in negotiations to gain access to the sites where violations are suspected of occurring, which could take months since, “history suggests the Iranians would engage in protracted negotiations and much arcane questioning of the evidence.” Even then, Iran would not be as forthcoming as necessary, “offering some access while holding back key data and personnel.”
If the process were reversed, where the IAEA raised the prospect of Iranian violations, the United States would nonetheless have to then undergo a time-consuming process of validating the findings.
The Security Council would then have to be notified, where the veto-yielding Russia and China – closely tied to Iran – would have to be convinced that the violation required a forceful reaction, “So, add at least a few more months,” says the op-ed.
Re-imposition of sanctions would not have an immediate effect, and “any sanctions would take time to stress Iran’s economy, particularly in the aftermath of an agreement that paved the way for the return of trade and investment,” and would thus be limited in their ability to deter Iran from assembling a nuclear weapon.
Add to that the fact that the United States has never used force to respond to violations of negotiated arms-control agreements, and that Iran’s “cheating…would always be incremental and never egregious,” and the agreement loses all ability to lay the world’s worries to rest, according to the former officials.
“In the end, a year simply may not be enough time to build an international consensus on measures to redress Iranian violations,” concludes the op-ed.