The Iran deal after the shouting.

Once upon a time, Iran signed up for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.[1] Under the treaty the development of nuclear power was acceptable, but the pursuit of nuclear weapons was not acceptable.[2] After n1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran pursued a secret program to develop nuclear weapons—not just nuclear power—until 2003. Then the hunt eased up, without entirely stopping. By 2006, Western nations had grown suspicious of Iranian actions, so they slapped on a series of increasingly painful economic sanctions. The vise kept tightening until the Iranians agreed to negotiate with a coalition of powers: the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, the European Community, Russia, and China.

The Iran deal that was recently technically-not-disapproved by Congress does certain things. It does not seek a permanent end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It does try to extend Iran’s “break out” time to a nuclear weapon from the current estimated three months to one year.

What’s the up-side? The agreement imposes controls on Iran for ten to fifteen years. Some of this involves Iran backing away from its current level of development by surrendering 97 percent of the enriched uranium it already possesses, dismantling two-thirds of its existing enrichment centrifuges, and reconstructing its existing heavy water reactor. Some of this involves “intrusive”[3] inspections of Iranian sites all along the supply-chain from mines and centrifuge factories to enrichment facilities.

What’s the down-side? Iran fended-off really intrusive inspections that would have allowed inspectors to look wherever they want. Only certain sites are open to free inspection. Other sites where Iran might seek to reconstitute its program out from under Western eyes can be visited only with Iranian permission. Refusal sets in train an appeals process; rejection of the Iranian position—in theory—triggers a “snap back” of the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Then, the agreement suspends the sanctions regime. Iran stands to earn up to $150 billion a year.

So, this deal will delay the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons for ten to fifteen years. What happens then? Both the Americans and the Iranians are wagering that people in the future will see their best interests clearly. The Obama administration appears to hope that Iranians in the future will see things differently than do members of the revolutionary generation that overthrew the Shah. Iranians appear to be thinking that the survival of the current regime depends on ending sanctions and that the future will take care of itself.

Will Iran try to cheat? Probably, but they are going to have spies all over them thicker than ticks on a hound.

What happens in 2025-2030? The Iranians may rush to “break out.” Or they may not care about nukes anymore. It’s hard to say.

How much confidence should people have in this agreement? Some. However, the opinion polls appear to show that Americans don’t want a big war right now. Give it ten years, and….   Then, neither Russia nor China has an interest in denying nukes to Iran.

So, take the deal, put the clutch down on war for ten to fifteen years, but don’t get confused about the possibility of hitting Iran if things don’t work out.

[1] “The Iran deal,” The Week, 9 October 2015, p. 11.

[2] Yes, there is gross hypocrisy in countries with nukes telling countries without nukes that they can’ t have nukes. Welcome to life.

[3] UN inspectors, video-cameras, and sensors.

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