In most cases, these events were meant to promote a particular perspective, with panels weighted heavily in favor or against the deal. The deal (full text here) commits Iran to halt progress on its enrichment capacity, cease enrichment above 5%, neutralize its stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium, discontinue some work at the Arak reactor, and provide IAEA access to its facilities in exchange for limited sanctions relief, no new sanctions, and facilitation of humanitarian transactions allowed by U.S. law.
Rare was the panel on which both sides were evenly represented. Furthermore, discussions tended to focus on unrelated facts, resulting in vicious-circle debates. In all the discussions, supporters of the deal presented themselves as realists. They said that short of war, Iran would never give up its aspirations for nuclear power. Therefore, if war is an absolute last resort, we must use the imperfect instrument of diplomacy. The opposition, however, comes across as idealists: any deal that allows Iran to enrich anything nuclear-related whatsoever is unacceptable. Skeptics also argued that Iran cannot be trusted. Supporters concurred, but said that because the agreement is an agenda for specific, verifiable actions, trust does not enter into this interim equation.
Despite this predictable dissonance, speakers holding widely varying opinions about the interim deal agreed on several major points that should be the basis for discussion of the Iran problem going forward.
First, there was agreement that the interim deal, in and of itself, would not be determinative. Supporters admitted that the next phase of diplomacy would be even more difficult. Second, panelists also agreed that the Administration should establish a credible, public response to an Iranian attempt to build a nuclear weapon through ‘breakout’ capacity. Third, experts agreed that IF Iran cheats, it would lose international credibility and political capital, thereby increasing the probability that the United States and our allies will have support to reinstate or strengthen economic sanctions.
A fourth point of agreement is that significant aspects of the deal are not concretely explained (i.e. left to interpretation), though the deal commits to creating a joint commission to work out these areas. For example, the deal says that Iran will not make "any further advances of its activities" at the Arak reactor, with a footnote specifying no commissioning, transfer of fuel or heavy water, further production of fuel rods, or installation of major components. Iran says this allows it to continue construction at the site on non-reactor components, such as building roads, walls etc. Some experts feel that any construction at the site violates terms of the agreement.
The biggest area of ambiguity concerns the potential military dimensions that the deal does not address. IAEA safeguards only cover nuclear material, not missiles. Iran has never accepted that there are military dimensions to its program. Supporters argue that these issues will be worked out in the implementation of the deal. Critics disagree. They say that the IAEA will only get the bare minimum cooperation from Iran, not the maximum it needs. And nothing in the deal will give the IAEA the ability to clarify potential military dimensions as long as Iran refuses to admit it wants nuclear weapons.
The Lugar Center seeks to educate citizens, students, and leaders on the risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials. As a political issue, the interim nuclear deal with Iran naturally raised passions among those who closely follow national security issues. Shortly after November 24th, lines were drawn over this issue in our domestic debate. But we believe there is common ground for thoughtful bipartisan analysis. Instead of fortifying the trenches, we should work to break down barriers to greater consensus.
Luke Feltz serves as the project coordinator for the Bipartisan Nuclear and WMD Policy Dialogue Program cosponsored by The Lugar Center and the Arms Control Association.