Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region
Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Deputy Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency
Editor, Weekend Review, Wall Street Journal
CFR Senior Fellow Philip Gordon, Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and CFR Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh join the Wall Street Journal's Gary Rosen to analyze the components of a final agreement on Iran's nuclear program. The panelists consider the political and technical components of a final deal between the P5+1 group of powers and Iran. Iran will offer a set of concessions in exchange for sanctions relief. The panelists discuss a range of issues including Iran's right to enrich, ability to stockpile uranium, nuclear "breakout" time, and acquiescence to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.
ROSEN: Hi, everyone. Welcome. I'm Gary Rosen from The Wall Street Journal. And I'm going to be moderating our discussion today. This Council on Foreign Relations session titled Deadline for the Deal: Opportunities and Pitfalls for U.S.-Iran Relations. We have a distinguished panel here of experts.
We have Philip Gordon, who is currently with the Council on Foreign Relations, but until recently, was a special assistant to President Obama and White House coordinator for Middle East, South Africa and the Gulf region, and who very much participated in these negotiations with Iran over the last several years. He is also recently a senior adviser of the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington.
So this is what you do when you leave government, You begin trying to figure out how to make a real livelihood doing something.
We have Olli Heinonen here in the middle. Olli was for most of his career a very senior official with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and is an expert on the monitoring of weapons agreements on nuclear science. And will have a lot to say about how this agreement, should it come about, might be monitored and verified. He's now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard.
And then on the far end there is Ray Takeyh, who is also a senior fellow at the council, who is a specialist in Middle Eastern studies, and especially on Iran. He has two previous books on Iran, and a fourth coming book called "Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East."
So, we have some authorities here who will help us figure out what's going on.
So I thought we would start, Phil, with basics. Remind us what is in the April framework agreement that was announced with great fanfare, and which sets out at least sort of the boundaries of an agreement that it remains to be seen will contain what details. So what are we talking about here?
GORDON: Sure, Gary. Thanks. I look forward to the discussion.
I will—as you said, I was involved in the negotiations and strongly support the framework that we're going to talk about. And we'll have plenty of time to make the case why I think that's in America's interest. But to just sort of factually...
GORDON: ... answer your question to begin, the Lausanne framework is just a basic deal that provides the United States and its allies in the international community assurances that Iran is not in a position to build a nuclear weapon. In exchange for that, Iran gets sanctions relief and a freeing of assets. That's the basic deal.
Now, how does it do that? Hugely complicated, and we can get into all sorts of technical details. But in brief, there are three particular paths for Iran to build a nuclear weapon that we've been worried about: enriching uranium, producing weapons-grade plutonium, or doing something secret in one of those other two paths.
And this deal deals with the enrichment problem by reducing the number of centrifuges Iran has. It currently has 19,000. It would have to bring it down to just over 6,000, of which 5,000 would be operating. It reduces their stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which they would have to use to develop a weapon to 300 kilograms from about 10,000 that it has now. And it limits the degree to which they can enrich uranium.
They can't do that 20 percent that we were so worried about before. So, it puts real constraints on their enrichment program, it puts constraints on their potential to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
They have a heavy water-reactor at a place called Arak, which, if completed, could have been in a position to produce weapons-grade plutonium. And according to the deal they have to completely transform that, get rid of the core, they can't do any reprocessing activities to give us assurance that they can't use plutonium.
And then to deal with potential secret activities, it provides much more of a verification, inspections. Olli can talk about that. But the basic idea is rigorous monitoring of their known sites, and a rigorous mechanism to make sure that there isn't any activity going on that we don't know about.
ROSEN: Right. And just one more thing, though. It is not for an indefinite stretch, it has a finite term on it. So we're talking about a real reduction activity for 10 to 15 years. And then what happens?
GORDON: Right. So it's phased, and there's a different amount of time for all the different restrictions that I talked about. Some, like the numbers of centrifuges, last for 10 years. Others, like the known new heavy water reactors, 15 years. Others are 25. And some are infinite, like the implementation of the additional protocol, again up Olli's lane, but regarding inspections, they have to allow for a much more rigorous inspections forever.
GORDON: So there's not one answer to that question...
ROSEN: Right. Right.
GORDON: But yes, there is a—what people call sunset on some of them. And the answer to your question about what happens then, the best answer you can give is "we'll see."
GORDON: What doesn't happen then, and here I want to clean up a misconception that's all sometimes out there among critics, which is that after 10 years, they can have a nuclear weapon. No.
For 10 years, they can't do certain things with centrifuges. But if in 10 years the president of the United States, and the prime minister of Israel, and the Chinese and Russian and European leaders, believe that Iran is doing things that should lead us to do things in response, well they can and will do them there. This just buys time.
ROSEN: OK. So, that's the formal agreement, what we know, what was announced.
So, Ray, this was announced in April, we've had all sorts of interesting statements on the American side, and especially on the Iranian side, issuing all sorts of qualifications, dissents, comments, notably Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, has made remarks about whether Iran could possibly under this agreement allow truly intrusive inspections, whether it will make its military sites available, how the sanctions relief will operate, on what terms.
So, having heard now from Phil the formal side of the agreement, what have we learned since it was announced about what are undoubtedly issues still being hammered out as negotiators are facing each other?
TAKEYH: Well, when Iranian negotiators go home, they tend to be very active in terms of describing what happened. They go to university symposiums, they give press conferences, they do scene setting. They tend to be enormously active in terms of description.
And there are some discrepancies between the frameworks, sometimes it's a question of emphasis, sometimes it's a question of what the two sides want to suggest is important. And sometimes there are questions that are simply discrepancies.
For instance, the Iranian framework talks only about a 10-year deal, not 15. They don't essentially discuss at all what happens to the disposition of the enriched uranium, as they have, I think, about 8,500 kilograms. They don't talk about coming down to 300. Now, these are the things that are omitted from their perspective. Essentially these are unresolved issues, because as they're not in their framework.
In terms of inspections, according to the Iranian negotiators, which you know, the United States and the 5-Plus-1 asked for access to two military bases and 23 individuals as a means of closing what is often called the possible military dimensions, which is essentially experimentation with nuclear weapon technology. And it was that particular request that they took back to the supreme leader, and he rejected it in his speech.
So what they're suggesting is the notion of access to military bases or access to scientists is part of an agreement to deal with previous military dimensions of the program, while the inspection modality of the agreement is to be worked out on their managed access, and Ali can talk about additional protocol, and what managed access mean and how can that managed access work.
So essentially then they have come up with various scenarios where, you know, you can do environmental sampling on the periphery of the military base, or within certain portions of a military base and so on and so forth. So there is, I think, the whole inspection modality is still subject to some sort of a working out.
I don't think, actually, there's a whole lot of disagreement on sanctions relief, I would say. They—the question is when do sanctions really kick in? Was the Iranian's want, quite naturally, is sanctions released to kick in when they sign an agreement on what the 5-Plus-1 would like is sanctions relief to kick in once there is—the agreement is in place.
So the things that Phil talked about, once they complete those, then sanctions relief kick in. And perhaps there is some idea about what happens to the phasing and all that. So those issues, I suspect, are still subject to some degree of negotiations
ROSEN: And do you feel like these comments represent in a way negotiating tactics? Or is it not done that deliberately or strategically? Does it just represent the variety of points of view you find in the Iranian regime, with perhaps dissidents who are unhappy with the process itself finding a way to undermine it, or to advance their agenda?
TAKEYH: Well, I'm not quite sure about that. I mean to figure out what's happening, it requires the visibility and foresight that I don't possess.
There's more of a consensus in the Iranian system about this deal than I think in the American system. I think they're simply—because that's one of the benefits of having a despot government (ph). You know the supreme leader—the supreme leader can decree...
(UNKNOWN): Who are you referring to?
TAKEYH: When Ali Khamenei...
(UNKNOWN): I just...
TAKEYH: When he can pose an agreement on those that may not want to see the agreement.
But essentially what you have, I think, on this particular military issue—look, Ali visited a lot of Iranian military installations in his time, so there's precedent for that. And he interviewed a lot of scientists in his time.
But I don't know how, frankly, the issue of PMD will be resolved because it is the Iranian position today that the previous military dimensions of the program is manufactured evidence, and it was done by scientists and Rothschilds in the basement of Citibank. I mean they have all kinds of ideas about how.
So, that issue remains unresolved. But I think there is more of a consensus in the system.
ROSEN: So, we'll come back to that, to this question of the past activities and developing some sort of military applications for nuclear power.
But, Olli, I thought it'd be good for you to tell us a little bit about what disagreement, as you understand it, will require in terms of inspection and verification, because this is a very big country, which over the past decade or more, has seemingly invested a great deal in infrastructure to these ends.
And I guess in a strictly technical sense, it feels like a formidable challenge to have access and monitoring. And many of us will remember the sort of very public activity that went on in the lead up to the Gulf War, right, when we saw monitors arriving, and facilities seeming to close doors and open doors and things to be moved around.
So, how difficult would it be for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor an agreement of this sort? And what, if anything, should we conclude from the history of Iran's relationship with the IAEA, which is troubled, as I understand it?
HEINONEN: Thank you. Yes.
I think Phil described pretty well the framework where it is. And I look it from the point of view of strengths and weaknesses the way I see it now. Take—Noting at the same time that the people are now sitting in (inaudible) and ironing out the final details.
But the challenge is formidable. It's easier to prove that some things operate on certain way, than to find out that there is no clandestine activities somewhere. And I think this is where the challenge comes in this picture.
Now, they agreed. This framework actually leaves, frankly speaking, Iran as a nuclear threshold state. Phil said 5,000 centrifuges operating in Natanz. Another 1,000 will stay in Fordo and Acrown (ph). But they are not used to be used for uranium enrichment or nuclear enrichment. But they can be started at any given point of time. Certainly, it would be absurd, but that's a fairly straight for IAEA.
And then the third part is, are they all what we see? Are there some other centrifuges somewhere which we don't know?
And let me now look the 5,000. Certainly IAEA will be there. If you feed them as they stand today, with their known parameters, their known capabilities, using statements of Vice President Salehi (ph), those centrifuges can produce, in less than one year's time, enough enriched uranium for one nuclear device, based on his statements.
So, we are at a limit in terms of the verifications. So anything which comes on top of that is a problem from the risk assessment point of view. Then Fordo, is easy to find out, it will add another 1,000 centrifuges, which will cut maybe the breakout time with a month or two, if they start it.
But then the biggest trouble comes from two issues which have not been yet satisfactorily resolved. The first is, what kind of R&D Iran is going to have? How many centrifuges will be in this R&D? And what will be their capacity?
Today, if you go to Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (sic) in Natanz, which is the major R&D place, actually they have two cascades of IR-1, two cascades of IR-2 in the more advanced centrifuge, and one cascade of IR-4. And if you take their total enrichment capacity together, it actually exceeds that 1,000 what is in Fordo left from the agreement.
So, it will be interesting to see how the negotiators will narrow this down, because if we put that extra 1,000 and they are kept there as they are, it will again cut a couple of months from the breakout time.
And I have written recently more details report on this with Simon Henderson from Washington Institute. So you will find it from the Belfer Center website since yesterday, and Washington Institute today. So I don't spend your time for those numbers.
But then comes the biggest challenge, how many centrifuges Iran has in total? We know so many there in Natanz, so many in Fordo. Are these all? And where are those all? And I think it's important now that the negotiators negotiate the provision.
But the IAEA has an unfettered access to all manufacturing facilities, hence the production of centrifuges over the long period of time. What's the history of production, where those centrifuges are today? And this is a difficult task.
But we did it in 2003. When the suspension agreement came, Iran agreed that we verify all the raw materials which they had acquired, made an estimate every major component of centrifuge, and show the example centrifuges and came to the conclusion that roughly on those days the number of centrifuges presented to us matched with those ones which we saw.
I think that this is of paramount importance for this new agreement in setting the baseline for verification that the IAEA is able to contact similar kind of assessment to make sure that we start from the clean table.
And then the fourth thing for this analysis (ph), is that there needs to be very good provisions to make sure also, as Phil said, there are 19,000 centrifuges and 6,000 knowingly will stay there. That there is enough erasements (ph) that it's not going to be easy to reinstall those centrifuges, because if particularly, if you take the more advanced centrifuges and put them back, you can put them in one or two months' time. And again, your breakout times will be very different.
So I think that these are the challenges.
ROSEN: So, let me—I know Phil wants to follow-up. But let me pose the question to both of you.
So to your minds there are clear concessions in terms of access and transparency that the Iranians have to make to show that this is a serious deal. And if certain sorts of inspections, certain sorts of facilities are off limits, then this is not a real deal and shouldn't happen?
GORDON: No, absolutely. The verification issues that are on the table here are central to this. Without that, nobody can have confidence that the deal is a good one. You can write it on paper, but it doesn't matter.
And all of the concerns that Olli raises are exactly the right ones, exactly the right questions that scientists should be asking. And you know, administration and the P5+1 knows that. And this will be very much subjected to all of these hard questions.
We are confident that—Olli mentioned, you know, the Iranian side asserts that with 5,000 centrifuges they can develop enough highly enriched uranium in a year. We're very confident that if we get the outcome agreed in Lausanne, it would be at least a year before they could develop enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb.
That's why Energy Secretary Muniz was part of the delegation to make sure that all of these numbers worked. And that's why—keep in mind, don't just think about the number of centrifuges. And you can take any number of centrifuges. It depends on what kind of centrifuges. And the agreement says it has to be the IR-1s, their oldest technology, least capable one, not the much more advanced ones.
And that the stockpile has to come down. We talked about a stockpile coming down from 10,000 kilograms of LEU to 300. Now, those things don't happen and the 5,000 number makes a big difference.
The last thing I'd say about that, though, this breakout timeline issue, which is central, is as we sit here today, outside analysts estimate that Iran's breakout timeline is two or three months. So, when people raise concerns, you know, is a year enough? And what if it's actually not a year? What if it's just 11 months? Well one, we're highly confident that it actually is a year...
ROSEN: OK. But say—let's assume you get the worst of both worlds, that we get an agreement that, for political reasons on both sides, is ratified. It is only doing half the job, say, in terms of inspection verification. And we have sanctions peeled back and Iran getting lots of assets, lots of money it didn't have before.
I mean, is this going to potentially exacerbate Iran's behavior in the region, which hasn't exactly been a model of restraint during the period of these negotiations? So, Ray, do you want to speak to that?
TAKEYH: With—you mean additional economic resources?
ROSEN: Well, just so look, so you have this agreement, right, that in some narrow sense is being pursued for the military and strategic reason and goal of shortening the time until Iran could plausibly produce a nuclear weapon. So we tell ourselves right now it's two to three months. And under this deal it would be a year, which seems like a good cushion, right?
But it seems like our allies in the region, it seems like Israel, it seems like Saudi Arabia is not—are not reassured by this deal, and don't seem to buy the strategic logic, such as it is, that is motivating our negotiations. So, are we advancing some plausible strategic vision with this deal?
TAKEYH: Well, the year breakout period resulted—is actually a revision of a longstanding U.S. policy that was predicated on the notion that Iran has a right to a civilly and nuclear program that matches what it was called its national needs. What national needs Iran has for advanced uranium capability.
And the answer is, it has no national needs. The dirty little secret is, you manufacture uranium. You enrich uranium in order to make fuel rods, and you make fuel rods in order power reactors. That's the chain.
Iran has been enriching uranium for 12 years. It cannot manufacture fuel rods. And if it could manufacture fuel rods, it has no reactors that require fuel rods. It has no reactors.
So, the—Iranians enriching uranium is like a guy who goes to a gas station for the past 12 years every day and buys a gallon of gas. He has no car.
And he's plausibly never going to get a car. So the question is, why is he enriching uranium? So, why is he purchasing gas and why they are enriching uranium?
So the one-year breakout period came about as a concession, because we essentially abandoned the position of national needs for which Iranian civilian program would be very limited and symbolic. So under the one-year breakout period, you try to essentially put sufficient timeframe between the decision to break out and to actually break out.
And Phil mentioned the one-year break out. The one-year breakout period is not static. It's not forever. As advanced centrifuges come online and so on, that breakout period, by definition and implication, shrinks. According to President Obama, that breakout period goes down to zero after 12, 13 years of disagreement. And zero breakout period is essentially non-detection.
But the whole breakout—notion of a one-year breakout is an arbitrary figure, because of the movement away from the so-called national needs that had defined United States policy on this issue.
Now, in terms of verification, this agreement, like all arms control agreement, will operate on the notion of managed access. You have a right to inspect a military base if you have evidence some untoward activity is taking place. And that's in negotiations between the Iranians.
It must be said and it should be noted, that today Iranians are not granting access to IAEA regarding some important questions it has, access to facilities that it wants. And that's part of Iran's safeguard obligations. They have to essentially make those access available, and they have not. So, they're violating their safeguard agreements today, and the assumption is that after the agreement they will not do so.
Now, in terms of the regional implication of this and domestic implication of this, Iran will get a lot of economic resources. Given the nature of the leadership, they probably invested, you know, in public schools, health care programs, bridges, infrastructure, because you know that's just the kind of folks they are.
ROSEN: That's sarcasm.
TAKEYH: No. Actually...
ROSEN: For the transcripts.
TAKEYH: Some of it will be invested in domestic needs, because in essence what the Islamic Republic wants to offer its public is the China model: some measure of economic growth in light of a repressive state and a political acquiescence. But some of it, undoubtedly, will be spent in regional activities at a time when region is essentially subject to much rivalry between Iran and a variety of Sunni state powers.
The implication of this for the region, I suspect, it may lead to proliferation of nuclear technologies, which is different than nuclear weapons. Other states are going to try to match Iran's capabilities in some way. It's not going to be very easy for them to get access to advanced technologies and so on. But they may do so.
So, paradoxically, you have an agreement that upon its expiration—upon the expiration of this agreement, Iran does have a right to embark on an industrial-sized program. If president of the United States, as Phil said, at that time can disagree, that means the president of the United States can disagree.
Iran has a right under this agreement to pursue an industrial-sized nuclear program upon expiration of this clause. Just like, if I have an agreement with Citibank for 10 years, and it's called a mortgage, after 10 years the house is mine. The new president of Citibank can disagree, but the house is still mine.
So they do retain that right. And, you know, the implication of an industrial-sized nuclear program, the implication of proliferation in the region, paradoxically, this agreement may actually result to greater nuclear technologies being distributed in the Middle East. And that may be one of its most enduring legacies.
And I'm sure Phil will want to rebut.
ROSEN: And I'm going to let Phil do that.
But let me ask Olli...
TAKEYH: Well, his rebuttal can come in the form of agreement.
ROSEN: Because Olli—Olli, you have experience on the ground in Iran, and dealing with Iranian negotiators and nuclear facilities. So this issue of possible military dimension, PMD is the jargon for it, has been in the news over the last week because Secretary of State Kerry said something, perhaps in an offhanded moment, about that's not being such an issue in terms of Iran coming clean about past activities for developing a weapon.
And help us with this, because my understanding is that in a way what would give us reassurance that we had limited breakout capability would be their coming clean about previous activities, so that we could know in a sense what was there sort of ready in turnkey fashion to be turned into a usable weapon. That is that the history, the records that they have not been willing to share, are necessary for the kind of reassurance we want this negotiation and deal to produce.
HEINONEN: Let me start by clarifying a little bit about the PMD, the way the IAEA saw it.
Actually, PMD has three parts. One is the nuclear weapon-related activities, missile and vehicular, so without weaponization activities. But then, the military establishment has also played a crucial role in manufacturing components, centrifuges, acquiring raw materials for centrifuges, buying some nuclear-related equipment. So they have played also a role there.
And then the third part where they apparently have been involved in some fuel cycle-related activities, according to this P.M. (ph) dossier, which is a somewhat disturbing, because on the one hand, Iran says that everything happens in the area or in the domain of other (inaudible) organizations. So why would a military establishment, for example, look production of uranium tetrachloride, which is a chemical compound and one of the process intermediates in this nuclear fuel cycle. It's (inaudible).
So in order to make first sure, we need to make sure of two things. One, that there's no parallel nuclear program. That whatever activities are related to fuel cycle, these institutes did, they have been terminated and all those activities are now under the Atomic Energy Organization. I think that this is vital in order to maintain this one-year breakout capability as a constant.
Then, if you want to monitor the future production of nuclear components, centrifuges, you need to have an access to those military installations which produce those components. So that's part of it.
And then you come to the military part, or the weapon part. I don't think that you need to know every time it's not involved, when it was manufactured, where it was.
But I would take a good example of the way we approached the South African nuclear program in 1993, 1994, when we all did to understand two things. Has the nuclear program indeed been terminated? Are all single-use items, which they're a part of the nuclear program, have they been rendered harmless or destroyed, so that they are not going to be used?
And then we need to understand which are the chokepoints, how far they got, so that we can monitor if the program is restarted. And I think that this is what is needed here.
So, it's not such that you can forget the whole history for those three reasons. But you need to set the reasonable baseline for the most important elements, so that you can have a confidence to this monetary scheme which you plan to set up.
HEINONEN: And this is—needs access to people...
HEINONEN: ... to certain documentation. Not every piece of paper, but almost like a scientific discussion with the Iranian technical people, who can fill the gaps and explain what took place, why, what went further, what went less further. So that international community can establish...
ROSEN: Very good.
HEINONEN: ... the baseline.
ROSEN: So, I know Phil is very eager to explain why Saudi Arabia, Israel and all of our allies in the region are wrong to doubt this agreement. But he's going to get a chance to do that, I'm sure, in response to the questions that we are now going to take from members, because we've gone on too long a little bit up here, and I know many of you will have questions to ask, and it will give our panelists an opportunity to say more
So I will ask, please, that you raise your hand, wait for the microphone. Identify yourself, give your affiliation. And please ask a discrete question.
So, questions now from members, please? Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: Wendy Luers, for Foundation for Civil Society; and the wife of Bill Luers who runs the Iran Project, in all openness.
The question really is now as they get down to the final line, that this is probably a deal that's been done, and is going to be done because it's in everybody's best interest. The difference is the narratives that each one of—each side is going to have to tell their own public. And could you expand a little bit on what the reality of the narratives are, and whether or not you think I'm right, that they're very close?
ROSEN: So, Phil, why don't you...
ROSEN: ... let it go?
GORDON: Very close is probably accurate, but very close isn't good enough. You know we're talking about a deadline on June 30. But don't forget this is the fourth deadline.
The last one, the two sides got much closer than ever previously. But they didn't finish, notwithstanding a real deadline and an effort to finish by the end of March. And as I keep saying, the issues that were too difficult to resolve on March 28th, 29th and 30th are going to be just as difficult on June 28th, 29th and 30th.
So I wouldn't—you know a done deal is too much. These are really hard issues because both sides have to swallow things that they really would rather not swallow.
I mean, the U.S. point of view has been that it needs to meet our standards. It doesn't mean that, you know, it's ideal and perfect. You know, Ray was talking about preferences have zero enrichment and...
TAKEYH: That wasn't zero enrichment.
TAKEYH: The national needs (ph) proposition does not require zero enrichment. That just—it was the United States policy up to 2013 that Iran would have a symbolic enrichment program...
TAKEYH: ... to meet its national needs. That's a different thing than zero enrichment.
GORDON: OK. But it's very easy to...
TAKEYH: By the way, there's nothing wrong (ph)...
GORDON: ... it's very easy to...
TAKEYH: ... with zero enrichment. This was a 50-year American foreign policy from...
GORDON: That's right.
TAKEYH: ... so.
GORDON: It's actually easy to explain why the U.S. and other countries moved off of that policy. And I would say again, we would love to see zero enrichment.
The question is when you go into this—that could have been our position. It has been for the past 10 years, during which Iran went from about 160 centrifuges to 20,000. So we could continue to say that the only possible agreement that we're going to accept is one—I also want to, right—is one that has their...
ROSEN: Enrichment. Yes.
GORDON: But, I want to be clear. I agree with Ray that we should be highly suspicious of this program.
ROSEN: Well, let me ask you, Phil, I mean, having been a part of this, and this is part of the criticism that is leveled at the Obama administration, is that it is so politically and diplomatically invested in achieving a deal that it will be very hard for it to walk away. And that it will at this point, have such incentives to sort of fudge some of these technical issues that are important to making it a sound agreement, because so much in terms of its diplomatic and foreign policy prestige is on the line.
I mean so, so my question for you is has the Obama administration in negotiating this been too open and eager to have a deal, which is not great strategy?
GORDON: No. You know I don't think it's a matter of diplomatic or political prestige. You know, on the contrary. The president's getting beaten up and it's hard in Congress. And that said, the American public still strongly supports what we've seen in the Lausanne Agreement.
The driving force behind accepting positions that are not exactly what you have liked, which is true for any negotiation because there's another side, is contemplating the alternatives to it. And that's what I was saying about zero enrichment.
We could take the view that the only agreement we will accept is one that has zero centrifuges, that allows Olli's former colleagues to go wherever they want, whenever they want, tomorrow, that pour cement into the Fordo site and seals it, and so on and so forth. We could take that view. That doesn't give Iran access to its frozen currency until we're satisfied on its foreign policy, on terrorism.
There are a lot of things we would like to have in this agreement that would be better. The question you have to ask yourselves is, if that remains your position, what happens?
And if your answer to that question is, basically, what we've seen over the last 10 years, Iran says OK, thank you very much, we'll resume our enrichment of 20 percent. We're going to install another 10,000 centrifuges. We're going to complete that heavy-water reactor at Arak. Instead of having the inspection system that you're not enthusiastic about, you're not going to have any inspections.
And then you just have to decide. Do you acquiesce to Iran having a nuclear weapon? And we've said that's not something we can accept.
GORDON: Or do we use military force to take it out?
GORDON: Which we can do. But then there are all sorts of consequences to that...
ROSEN: Let me take another...
GORDON: That's how you get where we are.
ROSEN: ... I saw a hand over here. That's this gentleman right here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ryan Shell (ph), author and filmmaker.
Could you—following up on this, could you just comment on the views of Congress? I thought that I had read that Congress had ratified the final agreement in some form.
ROSEN: Ray, maybe you want to speak to this?
TAKEYH: I think as part of the Corker, Cardin, Menendez, Graham bill that was signed into law, the U.S. Congress has a right, I think, with 30 days to pass a resolution of approval of disapproval, I'm not sure, on this particular measure once it's submitted to the Hill. And so, that's the process that's going to go through.
I mean, I don't have a whip count. I can't tell you what the vote is. But it is very hard for me today to see 51 senators and 250 or so congressmen voting affirmatively for this agreement. Barring some dramatic revelation, my guess is there are not enough votes to affirm the agreement. But there are also not enough votes to override a presidential veto of the resolution to disapprove.
Now, I don't have a whip count. I can't tell you exactly what it is. And a lot of it will pertain to what the final text is. But I suspect that's the case.
This is by far, I think it's fair to say, the most unusual arms control agreement that I have seen. And maybe Olli can speak on this, too. It is an agreement that is likely to have the unanimous support of the United Nations Security Council, and also be rejected by the U.S. Congress. It will have the support of the European allies and add competitors like Russia and China, while being disclaimed by the allies in the region.
The president will embrace it. The Congress will reject it. And I don't know where this leaves this proposition. But it's—I would have to say it's the most unusual position, unusual situation that I have seen.
ROSEN: OK. Yes. More hands here. Sir? Oh, I'm sorry. I was pointing to the gentleman here at the...
QUESTION: My fault. My fault.
ROSEN: Yes. I'm sorry. Yes.
QUESTION: Maurice Tempelsman (ph).
Agreements, good, bad or indifferent, are reached to take place in a certain context. I think it's important to keep that in mind. Obviously, depending on the degree of your suspicion, one doesn't trust your counterparty that comes across even in what you say as a supporter.
The counterparty looks at the actions of the United States over the last few years and comes to the conclusion that we lack the will to make some of these tough decisions. What impact does that have on the chances of having that fulfilled?
GORDON: I don't—I think Iran is going to make its decision on the assessment of its own interests. And the president has been clear that what the United States and—you can't speak for our partners, but its partners in the international community, will not tolerate Iran developing a nuclear weapon. And what has produced this current end game is that they got close enough that we could no longer put that off.
As I said before, we, and not just this administration, but the previous administration, put it off. Our position was no enrichment, no heavy-water reactors, no plutonium. And they just moved steadily towards it. They did it in the previous administration and they did it in the first two years of this administration, until they got to the point where it was time to fish or cut bait.
And then we had this negotiation with Iran. And for the first time in a decade, we actually got them to back off, right? The joint plan of action, November 2014, for the first time stopped the progress they had been making and even reversed it. They got rid of this 20 percent enriched uranium, they stopped construction of the heavy-water reactor, they froze their enrichment capacity and so on.
So that's where we are now. You're right that Iran will have to make its decision about whether the U.S. means what it says. They're going to have to decide for themselves. I think we've been clear enough and we have the forces in place in the region to make clear that, if they walk away from what we believe is a realistic proposal on the table, then they have to assume the consequences for that. But the international piece of this is critical, because it's not just up to us.
If people want to—if the rest of the world, if our partners in the P5+1 and the international partners in Asia and elsewhere, who have made these sanctions effective decide, there's a deal they want to take, and the United States says, well thank you very much, maybe our Congress disagrees with you. Then we're doing that without that international support. And that's just a position I think it's reasonable to conclude we don't want to be in.
QUESTION: Judy Miller (ph).
There—we haven't discussed either snapback sanctions or who decides what constitutes a significant denial of access, which is a critical component of verification. Can you enlighten us on that?
ROSEN: Could we have—Olli, would you like to...
ROSEN: ... speak to that?
HEINONEN: I think there are two parts to this question. First of all, we need to keep in our mind that the organization which is responsible the implementation of nonproliferation treaty-related safeguards agreement was IAEA, not the P5+1.
Same is with the (inaudible), the IAEA secretary (inaudible) Iran in—on compliance or noncompliance with those undertakings. And P5+1, in principle, cannot overrule those, nor the IAEA can transfer the responsibility to them.
So then comes that extra part that's sometimes is called—and is a Protocol Plus (ph), which has original access rights and also compliance in terms of sanctions lifting and et cetera. So that is certainly for P5+1.
But this needs to be defined clearly in this case. And there are several reasons. And you know, I think that I would like to hear from the people to say to me clearly, is this an arms control agreement? Is this a proliferation or nonproliferation agreement? Or is this just a political agreement?
I think it's pretty much the latter. But that will probably explain some of these things. And I think that's all what I can say, unless Phil wants...
ROSEN: Yes, just quickly on sort of—right.
On the possibility that if we do get an agreement and there are violations, those violations will be detected. And they will prompt, you know, reasonable sanctions or some sort of penalty.
GORDON: Yes. You know, when people talk about cheating, let's be clear. This only holds so long as Iran abides by it. Everything they get in return, financial relief, sanctions relief, access to funds, depends on them implementing the agreement.
So it's not, you know, a question of trust. Nobody trusts. That's why you have a binding agreement. And what we're trying to write into this one is something better than the past, including the additional protocol. When there's a difference, there's no mechanism for resolving it.
So the IAEA says, we're suspicious of that site, we need to go there. And our issues need to be resolved. Iran says, well, here's some stuff. We resolved your issues. And IAEA says no, we're not happy with that. And it just goes on forever.
What we mean by snapback is a mechanism that cannot be blocked by the Russians, the Chinese or anyone else. But if we're not satisfied that the IAEA's getting what it needs, you go back to that sanctions regime automatically. It doesn't take a positive vote, it doesn't take something that the Russians could veto. That would be a strengthening of where we are now beyond...
ROSEN: Is there any precedent for that in any previous arms control agreement, for that kind of automatic sanction...
GORDON: Not to this degree, because there's also never been this degree of international sanctions based on Security Council resolutions and U.S. and European policy. And that's why we have some leverage here in which we need to use.
And of course, the Iranians are kicking and screaming. That's why there wasn't an agreement in the last two rounds, because they would like to find a way to slip out, so that you would need a positive vote to re-impose sanctions.
And there, you know, critics and people are right to be concerned because it would be—you know, remember all this on Iran, would be agonizing to get that—agonizing—it would probably be impossible to get that positive vote. But if the mechanism is such that it automatically comes back, then we can be confident in moving forward.
ROSEN: I think we have another question over here. I'm sorry, by the column. Yes, please?
QUESTION: I want to follow up quickly on this, and then I'd like Gordon to answer the question that was originally put to you about the strategic vision that you have in that region by lifting the sanctions on Iran, making sure that they have enough money to go on being analyzed with Hezbollah as Bashar al-Assad, and you know, ruin alliances and countries in the region.
So, why are you not concerned about that? But I want to challenge what you just said about authenticity. I thought that this was not settled at all, that the Russians are really not letting, you and that you're thinking of a tsar, and then, you know, like you're saying it as if yes, automatically we're going to be able to do this. And that is not a done deal.
GORDON: Correct. That's what I'm saying. That's what I said. That's why we're on round four of the deadlines. That's why we were unable to conclude it in March, because we didn't cave, because others, the Iranians, are pushing for some mechanism that they could slip out of. And we said that doesn't work. And that's why I said to the previous question, we can't guarantee you there's going to be a deal at the end of the month...
ROSEN: Just in a narrow, technical sense, what would that...
GORDON: I'll do the strategic thing, sure.
ROSEN: ... even look like? I mean, what would some sort of automatic sanction look like in response to a violation? I mean, how could it not be subject to an assessment by some expert or some committee of representatives? So, I just don't know what kind of automaticity would look like.
GORDON: I mean there are actually a number of different ways we could do it that our people at the U.N. and New York have been working through. You know you could—and some are more politically sensitive than others. You could say that the sanctions are only suspended and will automatically kick in after X amount of time...
GORDON: ... unless there's a confirmation by the IAEA that Iran is applying the sanctions.
GORDON: Or you could get rid of them, but say that, you know, absent confirmation they kick in. So, technically that—it would be complicated, and it would look different from things you'd done before. But that's not the hard part. The hard part is getting Iran to agree on the strategic vision part. This came up in part of our discussion before.
Look, nobody, certainly not in Washington, wants to see Iran have access to its frozen funds and have an economy that is working better, the profits of which they could put toward destabilizing activities in the region, which we object to, and try to contain and don't want to see. That shouldn't be in question.
The question is whether it's realistic or possible. In the 11th hour after a sanctions regime that was successfully put in place, only to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. You all know how hard it was to put this regime in place. We can get the Japanese, and the Indians, and the Chinese, and the Russians and the South Koreans to put the sanctions that work on Iran.
We have unilateral sanctions on Iran for decades. And that didn't bring Iran to the table, that brought Iran to 20,000 centrifuges. We managed to get the rest of the world on board for the successful sanctions by targeting them at Iran's nuclear program, because everyone agrees Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons.
If we now say we've gotten them, they did the joint plan of action, they stopped all of this nuclear infrastructure work, we now have a chance to get a comprehensive nuclear deal. Oh, but by the way, they don't get any sanctions relief until we're satisfied that they're not supporting the Houthis in Yemen, which by the way, we object to. That they're not supporting Hezbollah, which we strongly object to, and do everything we can to stop.
Suddenly make that the precondition? There's just not going to be an agreement. There's not—there's going to be neither a nuclear agreement nor a cooperative Iran...
ROSEN: Let me ask...
GORDON: We just have to be realistic about that.
ROSEN: ... over the years here in discussing this issue you've heard people say look, we're not going to be able to stop this big, rich country with a revolutionary ideology and resources from developing nuclear weapons. We'll play this cat and mouse game indefinitely. We won't be able to bring allies along. They're going to develop a certain nuclear capacity.
But you know what? They're a state, like any other state they'll have a limited nuclear capacity. We will deter them. We will deter Iran like we deter any other bad actor, like we deter North Korea, like we deterred the Soviet Union, like we deter China. And there's a kind of candor about that, that would let us sort of maintain a posture of suspicion toward them, and not relax the sanctions that will—that continue to sort of limit their economic capacities and presumably their mischief in the wider region.
So, why is that old realist argument a bad argument? And why do we think it's worthwhile to try to just focus on this one very narrow aspect of Iranian misbehavior? So, why not step away from the negotiations, wait for President Hillary Clinton or President Jeb Bush, and start over again with a new administration?
GORDON: Again, I'll let the others speak. If you believe that we should—we walk away now, we say you know what, this deal's just not good enough, we're going to walk away. Even though our partners think it's good enough and we've got Iran to do the things that extend the breakout timeline from two months to a year and all that, it's not good enough we're walking away.
If you believe that the result of that will be the world coming together, putting on new sanctions, the supreme leader coming back to the table in six months and making all the concessions he didn't make, then that's absolutely the right policy, and that's what we should do.
If, on the other hand, you believe that it would lead to everything we saw over the past 10 years, not just under this administration, but even the previous one, which wasn't suspected of being soft on Iran or anyone else, that Iran would say OK, thank you very much. We're resuming work on the plutonium reactor, we're accumulating 20 percent. Our stockpile is not going down to 300, it's going up to 30,000. And let's come back to the table again by the time the next president...
ROSEN: But according to your logic, that is the one activity that most unites the rest of the international community. That is they're openly and actively pursuing a nuclear program is what has made it possible to impose what sanctions and what international consensus there is.
GORDON: In the name of getting a good nuclear deal...
GORDON: ... not the day after we walk away from...
GORDON: ... what that international community thinks is a good thing.
ROSEN: Right. But it wouldn't make the world excited to see them have an open, active nuclear development program for weapons. I mean our walking away from a deal, it might make them think we were unreasonable not to try to strike a deal. But...
GORDON: Our support—international support for dealing with it would be less if we follow the path that you suggest.
Sir, right here?
QUESTION: During this presentation. Just a minute ago you did it again, suggesting that if we walk away from a deal, all these bad things are going to happen.
Let's assume that there was an Iranian negotiator in the room. And I've done negotiation in my business.
If I heard that, I wouldn't agree to snapback, I wouldn't agree to intrusive inspection, I wouldn't agree to a whole set of open items that are out there, because you in essence says that the situation we have today is better than going back, and hence we don't need all of that.
That—I've heard the president say just what you've said. It undermines our ability to negotiate the last open items on this deal.
GORDON: No. I'm sorry.
I've been very clear, just as the administration negotiators have been clear, of what we need to see. And I said in response to this question on sanctions, the reason we're still here now, the reason we didn't get a deal two Novembers ago, or in July after the six months of joint plan of action, or last March, is because we have bottom-line positions.
And we're pretty—this—the ball is in Iran's court on this. We've been very clear about what we need.
It needs to be a year breakout. They can't have heavy-water reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. We need sanctions that go back into place if they cheat. We need inspections that we're satisfied with, we need questions answered on PMD. We're clear on all of these points.
And if we don't get it, not only do we believe that we will have theworld's support for keeping the sanctions on, but if necessary. we'll use military force to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon. They know that, we tell them that in private, and we say it in public. But we also look --you know this is a democracy and we have an open and honest debate about what our policy should be. We also are willing to say what is not realistic, you know, we could all you know swear to only say we're going to accept a deal with some of the things that, you know, you refer to. But that's neither realistic nor necessary.
I don't think the Iranians have the misimpression that we'll take whatever. The reason this has gone on so long is that we've refused to do just that.
ROSEN: OK. So you're saying we're not looking for a perfect deal. The administration is going to look at this and say. all right, on balance are we getting and what they concede to us in terms of inspections, verifications, sanctions. enough that we can move forward and feel like there are real advantages here and that they are prepared, short of that, to walk away.
GORDON: Yes. And that's what Congress, this question about—that's what Congress should responsibly do.
If a deal is done, and it might not be done, if it's done, Congress should look at it very carefully, consult scientific experts, consult experts on sanctions and all that. And conclude, are we better if we do this deal, which may not be perfect, but if it's respected, at least until 2027, 2030, excludes—takes Iran a lot further away from the bomb than they are now. Or should we reject it and deal with the issue now?
ROSEN: Yes, ma'am? Right here in black.
QUESTION: Hi. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch.
I was interested in hearing an affirmative case of why a deal—the political aspects would be a good thing for U.S. security interests, and what the positive outcomes could be of a deal in Iran, specifically in the region? Particularly given the alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is actually quite parallel to Iran in terms of its supporting armed extremist groups and having a terrible human rights record, but nevertheless, there's a strategic interest that's led to an alliance with Saudi Arabia. So just off of that.
ROSEN: Yes. We need to follow up. And maybe, Ray, you'll address this because it is seen in the region, this negotiation, as a kind of fundamental shift in U.S. policy.
And many people in the region feel like it represents an attempt to create a new sort of dynamic and some sort of longer term, wider alliance with an Iran that in certain respects, especially if one goes back, say to the pre-revolutionary days, has interests that align with those of the United States, at least historically. Is that a misconception to see it in such broad, strategic terms?
TAKEYH: I think in terms of whether this pre-stages in U.S.-Iranian, the larger strategic reevaluation, I suspect that's exaggerated. However, in the American imagination, detente and arms control are sort of co-joined. I mean, it was the case with the Soviet Union in 1970s.
I think it's important to recognize in October 2000, the Secretary of Stage Madeleine Albright, does go to North Korea in order to establish their predicate for a presidential visit, arms control, detente coming together again. And wherever Iranians are, they're not North Koreans. They don't have slave camps. They're not starving their people to the same extent.
So, I think the notion that this may—I think there'll be an inclination on the part of some to try to work out other arrangements with Iran, because if you can do a deal on the thorny issue of the nuclear, why not on ISIS, why not on this? So it may actually lead to some of the things that the regional actors fear.
I do think that their core concerns in that particular sense, in the sense of, you know, re-imagination of U.S.-Iran relations, are somewhat exaggerated. But they do have some historical basis for those apprehensions. And in terms of Iran's place in the region, I think it's very important to recognize that Ali Khamenei is the most successful Iranian politician in not just last century, but this century.
The shah never had the kind of presence in Iraq and control of the state and the deep state that Iranians do today. The shah was never a material player in Syrian politics that Iranians are today. The shah tried to become a player in Lebanon by mobilizing the Shia community and supporting Ahmad, but he never had at his disposal a lethal proxy such as Hezbollah and sort of the commanding ability to manipulate Lebanese politics.
And so, the Iranian position today in the region, as strong as it's been, not in just 20th century but in 21st century. So this is—and that sort of imperialism requires money.
And in deep—and the Iranians may recognize what other imperial powers recognize, that the cost of imperialism tend to outweigh its actual palpable advantages. But given the fact that they're animated by certain revisionist ideology, they don't seem to have appreciate the same—revolutionary regimes do crazy things. In 1960s, China was offering economic assistance to countries that had a higher GDP than China did. I mean they don't make benefit—balance of benefit that.
So, the Iranian surge in the region is likely to be un-mitigated, certainly by this agreement, and to some extent enabled. But I do think the larger notion that there's going to be U.S.-Iranian detente similar to the one that took place between the shah and Iran, I think that's exaggerated.
Just one more thing on the United States arms control or proliferation negotiations with Iran. And the record on this is clear, you can access it on your phones. The notion that the United States looked the other way for shah to have enrichment or plutonium processing capability, and the drug of choice in 1970s was plutonium, is actually wrong.
United States position toward the shah was he cannot reprocess uranium—reprocess plutonium, nor can he have an indigenous fuel cycle completed in his country. That was the United States position. You can check it out in the foreign relations United States records that have just been published.
This is why he went to the French, because he couldn't get what he wants. The arms control negotiated, the proliferation agreement negotiated with an adversarial country today is more advantageous than the one that was negotiated between shah and the Ford administration. That needs to be said.
There are a lot of other things that Phil said that—that Phil has focused on the credit side of the ledger, and there is a credit side of the ledger, but there's a lot of other aspects of it. But for benefit of time...
TAKEYH: ... as the administration would say, we are where we are.
ROSEN: So, we are approaching 2 o'clock and need to finish on time. So let me have Olli, if you want to make a quick closing remark, and then Phil, you'll get to finish our session.
So, what should we look toward in the days ahead? And what do you think will happen with this agreement? Will we see a real agreement?
HEINONEN: It's good faith (ph) to come to these deal, I think in next 10 days. I just came back yesterday from Europe and was listening what they were thinking. There are a lot of challenges (ph) and views are quite a lot in variance. And I think it might be even some differences in views among P5+1, even though they are perhaps under the radar screen.
But these are important days. These will bring us, whether we have a good deal or whether we have bad deal, and I still want to remind the people that there are a couple of facts already now in title.
The first one is Iran remains in a noncompliance with its safeguard (ph) undertakings. When the deal enters into course, there's no change to that. And the second thing is that has not changed, as Ray put it, its nuclear course. It's still, so to say, keeps all the options open and looks perhaps 10 years ahead what to do.
ROSEN: OK. And Phil, the last word?
GORDON: Just very briefly. I mean, I'd also pick up on this 10 years ahead point—with it, coming back to the point Ray made about, does this deal authorize them or give them a certain right when the so-called sunset? I would put it somewhat differently, because again, what it certainly doesn't do is say they can have a path to nuclear weapons, which a lot of critics say.
But I don't even think it is accurate to say it gives them some right or authorizes them to this. What it does is deny them certain things until 2025, 2027, 2030 or beyond. And at that—and so, I think it's unambiguous for that amount of time.
That debate I'd be happy to have. Is the world better if we have all of those constraints during those years, or if we just roll the dice and see what they do? So then the question is, are you giving away too much up front, so that after that.
And there, like I said before, we will decide as a world and in an international community, what Iran we're dealing with, what we're suspicious of, and if they have the right, at that point, to start enriching uranium on an industrial scale, and they're doing all sorts of things in the region we don't like and we're suspicious.
They might be developing a nuclear weapon, then we will have the right to re-impose all of the sanctions that we had in the first place. And it just seems to me that's the question that our democracy, and public and Congress will ask if and when there is a deal at the end of the month.
ROSEN: Very good. Thank you.
Join me in welcoming—thanking rather, our panel.