Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Iran should be made to abandon all nuclear activities

Why does Iran want nukes? It doesn’t need a nuclear bomb for security, but nuclear weapons give tremendous clout and influence — and practical impunity for anything.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif spoke during the nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland.
REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

So we have a historic agreement with Iran and may start celebrating – or do we? Let’s try what high school AP history teaches us to do – analyze the world political situation and then examine the documents.

The main question is: Does Iran want to possess nuclear weapons? The answer to this is obvious – yes, it does. There is no economic reason for Iran to even have nuclear power, considering the world’s moving toward reducing oil consumption and Iran’s oil resources. But even if Iran wanted to have a peaceful use for nuclear energy, it would be much cheaper to acquire enriched uranium abroad than produce it. In addition, if this program were entirely peaceful, there would have been no reason to start it in secrecy and guard it so closely.

It’s important to understand why Iran wants nukes. Unlike Israel, Iran doesn’t need a nuclear bomb for security, since it is clear that no one will attack it, but nuclear weapons give tremendous clout and influence and practical impunity for anything. For example, North Korea sank a South Korean ship and nothing happened, and there is no doubt that the world would have let Saddam have Kuwait had he had nukes. And Iran wants to dominate the Middle East and spread its “revolution.” The opposite is also true: Those who do not have nukes are doomed – just look at Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. That makes it obvious that nuke quest is much more important to Iran than lifting sanctions (otherwise, Iran would have given up nukes long ago).

Now that Iran’s intentions are explained, we can look at the world’s goals. Everyone agrees that Iran should not have nukes, but some care less than others. Clearly, Russia and China do not see Iran’s nukes as a direct threat to them (and may even consider it a thorn in America’s side that is worth allowing if we take into account current US-Russia relations and the Ukrainian affair) and their interests are purely economical: China wants cheaper oil and Russia wants to sell more reactors to Iran. So in real life, it was not 5+1 vs. Iran but 3+1 vs. Iran+2. And even Europe thinks more about economic benefits than security and principles – that is why it took so long to persuade the EU to impose sanctions. However, one doesn’t need to go far to find countries opposed to this deal – they are all Iran’s neighbors. In fact, President Barack Obama managed to do what no one could before: Israel and Saudi Arabia are allies against Iran.

A deal became more important than its contents

What’s worse, for Obama this became so political that the fact of a deal became more important than what’s inside the deal because, unfortunately, he wanted this deal more than anyone else; while for Iran this was a purely economic issue (lifting sanctions would be nice if they can keep the program but by no means a thing of life and death – Iranians are not dying from hunger yet), for Obama it is a question of achieving the most important (and, in truth, the only) summit in his foreign policy and, which may be even more important, avoiding using military force in his remaining years in the office. So we can only guess how much Iran has been allowed to get away with lately in order not to upset it and ruin the chances for an agreement.

Article continues after advertisement

So getting back to the deal itself, it is hard to understand why after almost two years of negotiations it was necessary to have eight straight days of talking at the end to agree on something – couldn’t they find those eight extra days before? And with that question comes an uneasy thought that anything that is agreed in such a hurry at the last moment cannot be good for the most eager party. Of course, the praise for this agreement from the left (and even from the right – Patrick Buchanan, for example) is deafening and so is the condemnation from the other side (a note to the left: Thank the Republican senators’ letter that forced Iran to agree to a better deal in hope that it would not be rejected).

But, surprisingly, there is no signed agreement and all we know about it comes from a paper that the White House put together. I doubt many people actually read it, but it can be found here and it is obvious that Iran would have never agreed to it since it refers to nuclear weapons that Iran denies even seeking. So, at best, it is Obama’s understanding of the agreement and, at worst, it is his wish list spun as an agreement, so no wonder Iran has presented a completely different version.

Let’s look at some details here, assuming we can take this document at its face value. I will concentrate on the presumably agreed items and will avoid bringing up multiple holes and omissions, such as what will happen to existing and future enriched uranium in excess of allowed limit and when exactly the sanctions will be lifted, that should ostensibly be discussed later.

The rest of centrifuges will be stored

Iran will reduce the number of operational centrifuges but the rest will not be destroyed – just stored for 10 years, after which Iran will be free to use them again. Based apparently on the number of centrifuges and the amount of enriched uranium (which, by the way, has no civilian application for Iran at the moment), it states that the breakout time will be increased to one year; even if we believe this estimate, it will be in place, again, for 10 years only. The reinforced underground Fordo facility will practically stay intact, so any limitations imposed on what Iran can do there may be reversed in a snapshot. And, of course, saying that this facility will be converted so it can be used for peaceful purposes only is meaningless since Iranians would claim that their entire program is peaceful and no conversion is necessary. In addition, the agreement seems to allow Iran to continue its research with some limitations to be in place for the same ten years only.

The monitoring provisions seem to completely omit any mention of snap inspections, which are crucial. But even the regular inspection stipulations may seem very questionable considering that Iran did not allow inspectors at certain sites in the past and this agreement said nothing about that. In fact, this agreement says nothing about all of the outstanding issues that IAEA has with Iran’s previous activities, which may be a hint that Iran will not be hard-pressed to explain it.

The sanctions relief is promised as soon as Iran complies with the agreement — which, even under the best interpretation, may happen within a year or even sooner. Of course, the previous U.N. resolutions will be canceled, thus providing full legitimacy to all past Iranian activities and rewarding it for creating “facts on the ground.” (By the way, that is the term constantly used, with great contempt, for Israel’s settlements and it is always accompanied by requests to cease, desist, and dismantle.) After that, all new Security Council resolutions demanding something of Iran will need approval from Russia and China, making it highly unlikely that anything remotely disadvantaging Iran will be included and rendering a statement that in case of Iran’s bad behavior all previous sanctions will be re-imposed absurd, since no automatic trigger is mentioned.

What we have now is insignificant and flawed

It was said many times that it was unrealistic to expect Iran to give it all up if we consider Iranian pride and insecurities (what about Israel’s pride and insecurity?). But what we have now is both insignificant (because so many details will still have to be agreed upon) and flawed (because it leaves all Iranian nuclear-related infrastructure intact, thus practically guaranteeing that after expiration in 10 years Iran will have nukes); 10 years is a very short time, and hopes that Iran will change from within are naïve at best. But Iran may get a bomb even earlier because, after all the sanctions are lifted, it will effectively have free rein since expecting the world to do anything within a one-year breakout period is unrealistic.

It’s not too late to demand that Iran abandon all nuclear activities in accordance with U.N. resolutions because it lost its rights for peaceful use when it developed this program in secrecy. This should be the goal, just what Obama said three years ago he would do.

Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minnesota.  

Article continues after advertisement


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at