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April 2, 2015 4:05 pm

Critics Say Just Announced Framework Deal Between P5+1 and Iran Raises Many Concerns

avatar by David Daoud

Critics are already pouncing on the recently announced framework agreement with Iran. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Critics are already saying that the framework nuclear agreement, finally announced by Iran and the P5+1 on Thursday after days of grueling negotiations that blew past the March 31st deadline, raises many concerns.

The understanding was announced after eight days of negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland providing a framework for a comprehensive nuclear accord to be drafted by June 30th. In a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini called the agreement a “decisive step” in limiting Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile, which would provide Iran with sanctions relief in return.

Yet critics of the deal note that it may be a pyrrhic victory for the Obama Administration. The Israel Project, a Washington DC-based advocacy group, notes that for days before the announcement of the deal, days after the original deadline, one headline after the next emerged detailing further concessions to the Iranians. The US reportedly caved in on Iranian disclosure on the history of its nuclear program and may have also conceded to allowing Iran to operate centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility, as well as Iran being required to ship out their enriched uranium.

The Israel Project said that Zarif’s press conference on Thursday indeed confirmed a lot of those concerns. Zarif’s revelations have already generated some controversy, as he reiterated Iran’s positions, namely, that none of its facilities would be closed, nuclear research and development would continue, enrichment would continue, and that the heavy water reactor at Arak would be modernized. “There was a lot of braggadocio in the speech,” the group said.

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The Israel Project elaborated further:

Perhaps most relevant to people who have been following the day-to-day in Lausanne, is that Zarif confirmed the US has completely caved on the Fordow concession that the AP blew open on Thursday. Recall that Fordow is the underground bunker, built into the side of a mountain, which the Iranians emptied and made into an illicit enrichment facility. The assumption had always been that the Iranians would have to close it under any reasonable deal.

President Obama was saying as late as 2012: “We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program”

The Iranians simply said no. So the Americans caved and said that they could keep it open as a research facility, but they had to remove all the centrifuges for storage. The compromise was the brainchild of Robert Einhorn from Brookings – a top State nonproliferation official stretching back to the Clinton era – and there was a lot of talk of Iranian flexibility when they accepted it. Then this week, it emerged that in fact the Iranians would be allowed to keep centrifuges spinning inside the mountain.

But instead of spinning uranium, the centrifuges would be spinning germanium or similar non-nuclear elements. That’s the administration’s talking point: that there will not be any “enrichment” going on at Fordow. The claim is – bluntly – false. Centrifuges spin isotopes into lighter and heavier elements, thereby “enriching” the material. That’s what they do. In fact that’s all they do. The administration has gone all-in on a talking point that can be defeated by a Google search for ‘centrifuges enrich germanium’

This isn’t a minor point. The concession has the potential to gut the whole deal:

(1) Allows N-generation centrifuge R&D beyond the reach of the West– since the process is the exact same process, Iran will have a hardened facility where it will be able to research and develop N-generation centrifuges. Zarif bragged from the stage in Lausanne that Iranian R&D on centrifuges will continue on IR-4s, IR-5s, IR-6s, and IR-8s, and that the pace of research will be tied to Iranian scientific progress. The development of advanced centrifuges would give the Iranians a leg up if they decide to break out, and will put them instantly within a screw’s turn of a nuke when the deal expires.

(2) Leaves Iranian nuclear infrastructure running beyond the reach of the West – if the Iranians kick out inspectors and dare the world to respond, the West will have zero way to intervene. The Iranians will have a head start on enrichment, and a place to do it beyond the reach of Western weapons. The administration’s early pushback has been that the breakout time will still be a year, so they could in theory reimpose sanctions, but it takes more than a year for sanctions to take an economic toll. So: zero options to stop a breakout.

The Israel Project also raised concerns about the optics of the deal’s announcement, including the fact that the deal was announced by the EU representative and her Iranian counterpart, and not along with the entire P5+1, and the fact that US Secretary of State Kerry and Zarif did not take to the same stage together, but gave sequential briefings instead.

“The arrangement will raise eyebrows,” the group said. “The importance of maintaining P5+1 unity has been the argument – the central argument – that the administration has used to push back against efforts by Congress to impose new sanctions. The claim has been that Iran will walk away if Congress acts, then the P5+1 will blame Washington and fracture, then the sanctions regime will collapse. If there are already divisions inside the P5+1, that argument will get significantly less play – and the administration will be asked to explain why Congress shouldn’t have acted earlier.”

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