Iran accords worth the cost

Thomas Toghramadjian, Columns Editor

Thursdays with ThomasSince a 2013 presidential election replaced the deeply anti-Western Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the more moderate Hassan Rouhani, hopes of a liberalizing Iran have bolstered American will to negotiate with a previously intractable antagonist. Iran’s diplomatic image, long synonymous with inflammatory threats toward Israel, is now tempered by the appointment of the widely respected Muhammad Javad Zarif, an alum of the University of Denver who has publicly recognized the Holocaust, to the Foreign Minister’s office.

It was in this optimistic environment that President Obama entered the latest round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and it is the apparent shift in the country’s political trajectory upon which the resulting agreement implicitly rests. The settlement stipulates that the United States and its international partners will lift international sanctions on Iran, in exchange for Iran’s suspending uranium enrichment all facilities but one for the next ten years, keeping enrichment levels below 3.67% for fifteen years, and allowing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to regularly monitor its facilities.

While the deal garnered praise from many analysts, largely for the thorough framework it created for international oversight, and for its potential to begin Iran’s process of re-integration into the international community. But in addition to questions over whether the President is exceeding his executive authority by keeping the bill from a congressional vote—the Washington Post editorial board noted that the impending treaty “would be imposed unilaterally by a president with less than two years left in his term”—criticisms of the deal’s “sunset clause” have also emerged. In other words, some have suggested that the ten-and fifteen- year expiration dates will enable Iran to temporarily suspend its program, reap the economic benefits of discontinued sanctions, and emerge after that period as a nuclear power with aggressive regional ambitions.

These projections are not unfounded. Obama himself, during an interview with National Public Radio, acknowledged the “relevance” of the fear that “in year thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…the breakout times would have shrunk roughly down to zero.” This prospect is not necessarily prohibitive for an agreement; breakout times at present are estimated at only around three months, and Obama has argued the case that the benefits of increased intelligence and inspection are worth the cost.