The six-month deal between U.S.-led negotiators and Iran will make an Iranian atomic bomb more likely, not less, because it significantly strengthens the very regime in Tehran that so desperately wants nuclear weaponry.
In essence, the agreement undercuts the premise on which years of mounting economic and financial sanctions against the Islamic Republic had rested – that sanctions would force the regime to choose between its nuclear aspirations and its own survival and, in the end, it would pragmatically choose the latter.
By providing $7 billion in sanctions relief – including more than $4 billion in oil revenues that are frozen in foreign banks – the agreement will give the regime significant breathing room by preventing an economic collapse, thus boosting the spirits of its disgruntled citizenry. That will reduce public pressure on the regime, strengthening it at home and emboldening it to make more nuclear progress even under this agreement.
Due to the sanctions, Iran’s rial had become the world’s least valued currency last year and its economy was suffering from severe hyperinflation, according to the group United Against Nuclear Iran. But, with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s election in June, his charm offensive, and the West’s subsequent refusal to impose new sanctions, the rial had recovered 25 percent of its value since June – and it jumped another five percent after negotiators announced the deal in Geneva.
Moreover, Western energy, automobile, and other major businesses are already anticipating a return to business with Iran through trade, investment and other means that will chip away significantly at Iran’s isolation.
Nor, despite what top U.S. officials say, can Western powers easily reverse course and end the sanctions relief.
Over the last decade, U.S. and European officials had painstakingly crafted the sanctions system that finally forced Tehran to the bargaining table, and they were forced to overcome enormous opposition from major Western business interests that sought to continue making money in Iran. Now, with the door cracked open and businesses returning, officials will hardly find it easy to shut it again.
Sanctions relief, of course, would make sense if it came with enough Iranian concessions to justify it – that is, if the deal forced a real roll-back of Iran’s nuclear capacity that presaged its eventual abandonment and such iron-clad guarantees against Iranian cheating as an international right to unfettered inspections.
But, that’s not what this deal will bring. Instead, it essentially protects all of Iran’s nuclear progress to date, provides for inspections only at a limited number of sites, allows Iran to continue enriching uranium at low levels, and – despite U.S. assertions to the contrary – seems to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich.
Specifically, Iran can, and surely will, add to its stockpile of low-grade enriched uranium that it can later convert to weapons-grade level, and it won’t have to dismantle any of the centrifuges it has installed.
While international inspectors can conduct daily inspections at the Natanz and Fordo sites, they can’t roam freely to inspect other sites, including any that the regime has hidden from view.
Moreover, the deal greatly reduces the ability of America’s closest – and most worried – regional ally, Israel, to defend itself from Iran’s continuing annihilationist threats by using military force to cripple its nuclear program.
Yes, Israel still can launch strikes, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu served notice that it may do so. But, Jerusalem clearly won’t have Washington’s backing, and any strike that comes in the midst of what could become a long-term global focus on negotiations will invariably leave the Jewish State dangerously isolated.
The stronger the Iranian regime is at home, the more likely that it will continue to pursue nuclear weaponry. By strengthening the regime, the nuclear deal greatly increases the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.