For 10 years, U.N. resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency directives called for a full halt to all of Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production, and unconditional compliance with nuclear inspections, but now, what “was previously condemned as illegal and illegitimate has effectively been recognized as a baseline,” former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz wrote in an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
“And that baseline program is of strategic significance. For Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is coupled with an infrastructure sufficient to enrich it within a few months to weapons-grade, as well as a plausible route to producing weapons-grade plutonium in the installation now being built at Arak,” the two experts in statecraft wrote of the recent agreement reached between wold powers and Iran.
They criticized the agreement for dismantling sanctions before a final deal was sealed, because of the signal that sent to global business leaders, who now perceive a rush to be among the first to re-enter the Iranian economy as the U.S. broadcasts its desire for rapprochement.
Both considered lions in the field of international relations, Kissinger and Shultz elucidate the history of Iranian double-speak over more than three decades:
For 35 years and continuing today, Iran has been advocating an anti-Western concept of world order, waging proxy wars against America and its allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and beyond, and arming and training sectarian extremists throughout the Muslim world. During that time, Iran has defied unambiguous U.N. and IAEA demands and proceeded with a major nuclear effort, incompatible with any exclusively civilian purpose, and in violation of its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty in effect since 1970.
If the ruling group in Iran is genuinely prepared to enter into cooperative relations with the United States and the rest of the world, the U.S. should welcome and encourage that shift. But progress should be judged by a change of program, not of tone.
In their critique of the deal after a “decade-plus negotiating effort,” they write that world powers underplayed their hand, combining “steadily advancing Iranian nuclear capabilities with gradually receding international demands.” Without ever mentioning U.S. President Barack Obama or current Secretary of State John Kerry by their names, they cite administration spokesmen as heralding what the two experts described as the “modest benefit of the Geneva agreement,” lengthening Iran’s breakout time by “several weeks.”
Standing by itself, the interim agreement leaves Iran, hopefully only temporarily, in the position of a nuclear threshold power-a country that can achieve a military nuclear capability within months of its choosing to do so. A final agreement leaving this threshold capacity unimpaired would institutionalize the Iranian nuclear threat, with profound consequences for global nonproliferation policy and the stability of the Middle East.
Kissinger and Shultz also offered their own recommendations for how to conclude the talks:
Iran’s technical ability to construct a nuclear weapon must be meaningfully curtailed in the next stipulated negotiation through a strategically significant reduction in the number of centrifuges, restrictions on its installation of advanced centrifuges, and a foreclosure of its route toward a plutonium-production capability. Activity must be limited to a plausible civilian program subject to comprehensive monitoring as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Like the survey of the American public published this week by the Pew Research Center, Kissinger and Shultz doubt Iranian sincerity and fear a looming nuclear arms race breaking out in the Middle East.
Any final deal must ensure the world’s ability to detect a move toward a nuclear breakout, lengthen the world’s time to react, and underscore its determination to do so. The preservation of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime and the avoidance of a Middle East nuclear-arms race hang in the balance.