Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday May 10th, 2015

 

Assuming that there is a nuclear agreement with Iran, what happens if the Iranians don’t abide by it? That is a perfectly reasonable question. In fact, it is one of the most important questions yet to be resolved, if there is to be a final agreement before the end of June.

The example of North Korea, which now has several nuclear weapons, should be lesson number one: you don’t walk away from a nuclear agreement even if one side has been caught cheating. Some recent history.

In the early 1990s, North Korea began building facilities to produce plutonium - a key ingredient of one type of nuclear weapon. Under threat of American military intervention, talks began and U.S.- North Korean negotiators came up with something called an Agreed Framework. These were its basic terms:

-North Korea would freeze its nuclear facilities, and remain a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That meant accepting U.N. inspections.

-The U.S. and other Asian states would provide half a million tons of fuel oil to North Korea annually.

-Washington and Pyongyang committed themselves to a diplomatic process aimed at normalizing relations. 

That was the deal. And under the watch of those United Nations inspectors, the facilities were indeed frozen and no plutonium was produced for eight years.

However, in 2002 the Bush administration received credible evidence that the North Koreans had obtained from Pakistan, materials for developing a nuclear weapon using uranium. After confronting the North Koreans with the evidence of their perfidy, President George W. Bush stopped compliance with the Agreed Framework, cut off the oil shipments, and refused further talks. North Korea responded by unfreezing its plutonium facilities and kicking out the U.N. inspectors. Within two years North Korea tested a nuclear weapon that was built with plutonium from those same once frozen facilities.

If somebody cheats on a business deal, walking away from it is understandable. But nuclear weapons are an entirely different matter.

If a dangerous felon is making trouble in prison, you don’t solve the problem by setting him free- which is what the U.S. basically did in the case of North Korea.

So what is to be done if Iran violates or fails to comply with any final agreement? According to a report this past week by the Reuters News Agency, that issue remains a core impediment to a deal.

It is assumed that the United States and the European Union would re-impose the economic sanctions that been lifted as part of any agreement. But unresolved is the question of what would happen to the United Nations sanctions?

The Reuters report says, “U.S. and European Union negotiators want any easing of U.N. sanctions to be automatically reversible - negotiators call this a ‘snapback’ – if Tehran fails to comply with any agreement. Russia and China traditionally dislike such automatic measures.”

The “snapback” could be a deal breaking issue because Western governments fear that once U.N. sanctions on Iran are lifted, Russia and China would veto any attempt to restore them. Also, according to Reuters,  Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, ”want to be certain that if the Republicans win the presidency in 2016, the U.S. will not be able to unilaterally force a snapback.”

That latter problem is what happens when 47 Republican U.S. senators write to the Iranian leadership, threatening not to recognize any nuclear deal reached by President Barack Obama. Such blatant partisan interference with what are the president’s constitutional executive powers to negotiate international agreements is unprecedented, outrageous and at another time, quite possibly treason. Today, it’s just Republicans being Republicans.

Finally, for those who claim to be concerned that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are so eager to do a deal with Iran that they will give away the store, I draw your attention to the man who is making the key decisions on the nuclear matters in the negotiations, MIT nuclear physicist, now Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

In a recent feature, the Washington Post portrayed Moniz as “Obama’s secret weapon in the Iran talks.” After noting his unusual, shoulder length white hair that some compare to George Washington’s locks, the Post provided a lengthy analysis of the unique nuclear expertise that Moniz has brought to the negotiations. Beyond his expertise in his field, Moniz also has great credibility because he has gone out of his way to have good relations with both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. That has earned him unusual bipartisan respect - something his boss, the president does not have.

Moniz only joined the talks recently, after Iran sent the head of its Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi to supervise the technical side of the negotiations. Salehi had done graduate work at MIT and although he and Moniz had never met, they speak the same technical language and were able to negotiate fluently. They dealt with the nuclear dimensions of the talks while the foreign ministers dealt with the politics.

Moniz brought with him a team of experts from America’s top nuclear labs. They worked through many nights, with colleagues in their state-side labs acting as “red teams”, trying to figure out ways to see if the proposed limits on Iran’s nuclear facilities could be circumvented.

In future negotiations over on- site monitoring of those facilities by U.N. weapons inspectors, the opinions of these experts led by Moniz, will be crucial. They will decide what specific inspections will be absolutely essential to assure the world that Iran is not secretly still trying to become a nuclear power.

President Obama said at a briefing last month that if the final deal with Iran met expectations, “I am absolutely positive that is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” He then added, “And that’s not my opinion. That’s the opinion of people like Earnest Moniz, my secretary of energy who is a physicist from MIT and actually knows something about this stuff.” Indeed he does.



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