The world powers and Iran
are on the verge of a deal,
but this introduction agreement is just the preface for negotiations on the main agreement. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
has good reasons for the anger
he showed after his meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
According to the introduction agreement taking shape, Iran will not be forced to remove a single thing from its nuclear program. It may be hitting the brakes, but it's leaving the engine on – and can continue moving forward as soon as it feel like it.
The agreement being discussed in Geneva is an introduction agreement aimed at allowing both sides to move on with the talks over the main agreement on Iran's nuclear program with a tail wind. The negotiations on the main agreement are expected to be held in the next six months and conclude in the spring of 2014.
Therefore, we must examine what has been achieved and what will be achieved in Geneva in the next day or so according to three criteria:
1. Will Iran, during the talks on the main agreement, be able to make progress and reach the status of a nuclear threshold country?
2. Will the relaxing of sanctions by the United States and Europeans be a significant relief which will take the pressure off Iran, and reduce Tehran's motivation to respond to the West's demands during the negotiations on the main agreement?
3. Are the relaxing of sanctions and the restrictions imposed on the Iranian nuclear program reversible? In other words, can the West renege if a final agreement is not reached to its satisfaction, and can the Iranians revert to their evil ways if they don't get what they want?
The answer to the third question appears to be pretty clear actually – and it is yes. Although we don't know the exact nature of the agreement taking shape, but only from unconfirmed reports, it's pretty clear that what the Iranians commit to and what the West commits is reversible.
In fact, and that’s the main point, the Iranians are only freezing their nuclear program. They are not disarming or removing any element they have obtained so far. That is to say, even if they stop enriching uranium to one level or another, they will be able to renew it tomorrow morning or in three months from the exact same point they are in now.
They are not required to dismantle anything, and that's the source of the demonstrated anger of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who referred to the agreement as "very bad." An introduction agreement which does not even remove a bolt or a gram of enriched uranium from what has been achieved so far is alarming in regards to the future.
In fact, the principle being set here that Iran will not continue developing its military nuclear program, but is entitled to maintain the abilities to control and produce nuclear weapons whenever Tehran decides to do so. The implementation of this principle from an Israeli point of view is the worst scenario possible.
As for the sanctions the West will lift in return, those will likely be renewed without any effort if the Iranians refuse to show some flexibility. But looking at the overall agreement, one can see that the Iranians benefit more from the introduction agreement than the parties negotiating with them in Geneva. Their smile offensive is succeeding.
But that's not unintentional; that's the American and European strategy for the negotiations. The West knows that Iranian President Hassan Rohani
is in what one may call a "trial period" with supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the conservative ayatollahs, and mainly with the Revolutionary Guards commanders. They are willing to give him enough rope as long as he produces achievements, and then they might give him more rope.
US President Barack Obama's explicit goal is to present Rohani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, with an accomplishment at the start of the talks so that he can use his influence in Khamenei, the ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guards commanders to agree to a tougher agreement later on.
As for the relief, that will likely be given by the West in the field of banking and gold and oil products trade. What the relaxed sanctions in this package have in common is that they allow Iran to get hold of cash quickly and carry out the necessary bank transfers in order to fund the essential import of food products and raw materials for the industry, which will reduce the inflation and unemployment rates in Iran.
We are talking about sums of $50 billion to $60 billion, which the Iranian treasury will be able to put in its coffers and use to fund essential imports. It doesn't change Iran's economic situation dramatically, but it's a real relief, which definitely encourages the ayatollahs to back Rohani and Zarif. This relief, which the West plans to give in return for freezing the Iranian nuclear plan, can also be reversed without any effort almost within 24 hours.
As for the question whether Iran will be able to reach the status of a "threshold country" during the talks on the main agreement, here too the answer is relatively clear. Iran doesn't have to reach that status – it is in fact already a threshold country today. In other words, Tehran is in a position to produce enough fissile material for more than one nuclear warhead within about two months.
We don’t know how much progress Iran has made in developing a nuclear explosive device and how much progress it has made in developing a nuclear warhead, and so we don't know just how far it is from the bomb right now. But Western spy agencies assume it is very close.
So what is missing from the introduction agreement, or may be there but has yet to be reported, is to what extent the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be permitted to examine the facilities in which Iran has experimented or is experimenting a nuclear explosive device and the design of the warhead – like the Parchin base. This point is critical, because if the Iranians do not allow the IAEA inspectors to conduct such an examination, the introduction agreement is just a symbolic act and nothing more.
The bottom line is that Iran is already in the position of a "threshold country" and can run towards the bomb. So Rohani and Zarif can smile to Catherine Ashton and John Kerry in Geneva, agree to suspend the uranium enrichment, and commit in the future not to take the plutonium route at the reactor being built in Arak.
In light of all this, it's reasonable to estimate that the anger expressed and demonstrated by Netanyahu and even his public differences of opinion with US Secretary of State Kerry don’t have a lot to do with the introduction agreement which will likely be finalized in Geneva in the coming days, but rather with the Israeli prime minister's real fear of the precedent the introduction agreement on Iran's nukes creates in regards to the final agreement which may be signed in about six months.