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Our ZP blog-friends on the Iran deal

[ by Charles Cameron — waiting for the other shoe to drop — or be thrown, i suppose — or if a sandal, for the sand to be shaken off it if need be ]


Which leaves us with:

AP Exclusive: UN to let Iran inspect alleged nuke work site

Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press. [ .. ]

The Parchin agreement was worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers were not party to it but were briefed by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.

On Wednesday, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the Obama administration was “confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program. … The IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime ever peacefully negotiated.”

All IAEA member countries must give the agency some insight into their nuclear programs. Some are required to do no more than give a yearly accounting of the nuclear material they possess. But nations- like Iran – suspected of possible proliferation are under greater scrutiny that can include stringent inspections.

The agreement in question diverges from normal procedures by allowing Tehran to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence of activities it has consistently denied – trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Olli Heinonen, who was in charge of the Iran probe as deputy IAEA director general from 2005 to 2010, said he could think of no similar concession with any other country.

The White House has repeatedly denied claims of a secret side deal favorable to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told Republican senators last week that he was obligated to keep the document confidential.


IAEA Director General’s Statement and Road-map for the Clarification of Past & Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program

IAEA Director General’s Statement:

I have just signed the Road-map between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. The text has been signed on behalf of Iran by the country’s Vice-President, and President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mr Ali Akbar Salehi. This is a significant step forward towards clarifying outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. [ .. ]

Joint Statement

by the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi [ .. ]

Road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) agree, in continuation of their cooperation under the Framework for Cooperation, to accelerate and strengthen their cooperation and dialogue aimed at the resolution, by the end of 2015, of all past and present outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA and Iran.

In this context, Iran and the Agency agreed on the following: [ .. ]

5. Iran and the IAEA agreed on another separate arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin.

It appears to me that the other shoe is still up in the air — and must feel much the same way Schrödinger’s Cat feels.

23 Responses to “Our ZP blog-friends on the Iran deal”

  1. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    It’s worth noting that the AP story was much more inflammatory in an earlier version. The version now available at that URL leaves out a number of specifics that were in the earlier version. So there’s a double-quote for you that I will have more to say about later.

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Do you happen to have a capture of the earlier version, Cheryl?
    It’s a pity that NewsDiffs doesn’t follow AP & Reuters, just nytimes.com, cnn.com, politico.com, washingtonpost.com and bbc.co.uk

  3. Tim Furnish Says:

    As I’ve written and said for years, I do NOT think Iran has apocalyptic intent for its nuclear program, contra many in my own party (GOP). BUT Iran clearly wants nuclear weapons, not just nuclear reactors, in order to leverage its conventional power as well as for regime insurance. Bottom-line, however, is that the Islamic Republic is going to pursue nukes regardless of any agreements.

  4. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    I do have a capture. I hope to have a post up in the next day or so.

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Great, thanks Cheryl.
    Thanks, Tim.
    To be continued..

  6. zen Says:

    “Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press.”
    Well, I guess we know what is on the short list of IDF bombing targets and USAF too if a GOP candidate wins in 2016.
    This was less a concession than a diplomatic admission that evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program was too significant to scrub in a short time frame to pass a laugh test if the IAEA were to inspect, so rather than a Saddam Hussein type refusal by Tehran, the US, IAEA and the other powers agree to look the other way.
    Now, in the course of Soviet-US arms control, there was a point where verification, I think for SALT I (may be wrong here) was left to “national technical means” because both sides could not agree on an inspections regime. The difference though was to a certain degree, the dispute was academic given the vast size of Soviet and American arsenals at the time, we were talking still about how many times rubble would bounce. Iran is not in that kind of strategic position enjoyed by the USSR, it is a state within striking distance of breakthrough to the nuclear club with a crippled economy and restless populace yearning for a better, freer life. Generally not a hand meriting overly generous concessions.
    It will be interesting to see if the “robust inspections” mean anything at all in light of the details of these secret side agreements. Which undoubtedly won’t remain secret for much longer.

  7. Charles Cameron Says:


    Mecklin is the Editor at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

  8. Charles Cameron Says:



  9. morgan Says:

    To add to Tim’s post, Iran knows that her Sunni neighbor Pakistan has nuc’s and, to protect Shi’ite Muslims, since Iran views herself as the protector of Shi’ite Muslims, there must be a Shi’ite nuclear bomb. Iran will do what it takes to possess that Shi’ite nuclear arsenal.

  10. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    If the purpose of this agreement is to keep the Persians from developing fission weapons, it will fail and its failure will not be surprising. It would fail even if the Persians had different rulers than the ayatollahs. It would fail even if the Pahlavis had survived. It would fail even if the Persians still worshiped Ahura Mazda. Songs of the glory of the Achaemenids, of the Sassanids, of the Safavids, of Nadir Shah, would drown out the few Persian voices opposed to the bomb.


    Like the Chinese, Persia is a proud and ancient imperial tradition suddenly and unfairly laid low (very low) in the late 19C by uppity Northwestern Europeans armed with unsporting new fangled contraptions. Like the Chinese, the ability to say no to uppity foreigners, especially if no is said with an atomic period, is more important than being thought gauche by the currently fashionable set. Like the Chinese, the rulers of the Persians, though rebels against the order they overthrew, feel the weight of 27 centuries frowning down on them in their current squalor. Like the Chinese, Persians know the proper relationship between itself and neighboring peoples: groveling and kowtowing while the Persians trod upon their neck. Like the Chinese, they know that unmoored Western fecklessness is the surest road back to their place in the sun.


    If I were Persian, I’d want the bomb too.

  11. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Lynn:
    You’d want the bomb, or the threat of the bomb? Would “breakout capability” do the trick?
    BTW & FTR, I almost wrote “bfreakout capability” — is that a needed neologism?

  12. Charles Cameron Says:

    It appears that many of those in Congress opposed to the Iran deal, and believing it to be dangerous, also identify with the Republican party, whereas many of those in favor of the deal, and believing it to be a safeguard, also identify with the Democrats.
    Now I know correlation is not causation — not necessarily — but is it possible that such people are determining their views on this issue on the basis of their party-political affiliations, rather than on a judicious blend of technical, theological, geopolitical and linguistic expertises?
    Let it not be so!

  13. Dave Schuler Says:

    I have never understood the concept of “breakout capability”. Could someone please explain it to me? Not the mechanics. The strategic significance.
    This isn’t the 1940s. An ICBM can go from Nebraska to Tehran in about a half hour.

  14. Charles Cameron Says:

    The CIA defined “breakout capability” wrt its 2004 DCI Special Advisor Report on Iraq’s WMD thus:

    Knowledge, infrastructure, and materiel, which usually lie beneath the threshold of suspicion, but which can be rapidly adapted or reorganized to allow for weaponization processes to be undertaken. Such capabilities require pre-disposed resources and often employ dual-use technology, equipment, or knowledge.

    I’ve understood it (in ternms of Iran & nukes) to mean the capability to create a viable nuclear weapon & delivery system in short order, should the decisxion to do so be taken at some future point — the idea being that that may be a sufficient threat for purposes of deterrence, while avoiding the costs and risks associated with full development and deployment.

  15. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    For the Iran talks, “breakout time” has a particular meaning: how long it would take Iran to produce a significant quantity (defined by IAEA as amount necessary for a bomb, I think they say 24 kg) of enriched uranium.
    I dislike the term for many reasons, among them that it implies that Iran will have a bomb in that time. Making a bomb requires much more than just that quantity of uranium, fresh out of the centrifuges, and delivering it requires missiles. Iran has no ICBMs.
    But I’ve mellowed a bit. When you’re negotiating, it helps to have numerical goals, and this isn’t the worst one might choose, as long as you know what it means. But lots of people, like Dave, don’t know what it means. Which is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s pretty specialized.
    And I see that Charles is actually talking about something else, which I might refer to as “threshold capability.” I tend to agree that this is what Iran wants.

  16. Dave Schuler Says:

    “I’ve understood it (in terms of Iran & nukes) to mean the capability to create a viable nuclear weapon & delivery system in short order, should the decisxion to do so be taken at some future point ”
    Can you really deter the U. S. or Russia that way? As I said in my comment, an ICBM in Nebraska is only a half hour away from Tehran. Russia and China’s ICBMs are probably even closer.\
    It seems to me that the only candidate for deterrence via “breakout capability” is Israel. Does Iran need “breakout capability” to deter Israel?

  17. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    Hi Charles,


    I’d want not only a gun style fission weapon, I’d want an implosion fission weapon and ultimately a fusion weapon. As Anami, harder line elements of the Japanese Army, and the heads of Japan’s own fission bomb projects correctly pointed out at the time, a fission weapon is not an absolute game changer. It would have been possible for Japan to continue fighting, though they probably would have had to move in more dispersed formations, something Japan’s mountainous terrain facilitates anyway. If the United States had invaded Japan and decided to use a “weapon of mass destruction”, the weapon of choice would have been chemical weapons of the sort that led to the discovery of the first chemotherapy agents.


    Possession of a fission bomb would give any potential Iranian military opponents pause, but it would not by itself comprehensively rule out military conflict. The nuclear taboo, usefully perhaps, conflates fission weapons and fusion weapons together as “nuclear” weapons, a monolithic no-no. Truth be told, if fusion weapons had been technically infeasible with 1949 technology, chances are that fission weapons by themselves would not have made conventional warfare between great powers as dangerous a proposition as it became since fusion weapons proved not only technically feasible for the U.S. by the end of the 1940s but for the USSR.


    Having a “nuclear” weapon has a certain totemic power beyond just its kinetic power. It marks you as a member of a select club, someone whose opinion can’t be ignored. In a sense the nuclear weapon is like war chariots after the rise of mounted horse cavalry: even if its actual military value is questionable, it was still a potent symbol of strength due to its past use. In a more contemporary vein, though many contemporary naval critics doubt the usefulness of large aircraft carriers against opponents who can shoot back, aspirational powers like China continue to build them. Even if their military capability in conventional naval power proved to be hollow, the aircraft carrier is still capable of playing the role of formidable weapon on TV.


    Saddam Hussein used a certain creative ambiguity over whether he had breakout and thus freakout capability to try to deter the United States and Iran from attacking a weak Iraq. This allowed the United States to use a certain creative ambiguity to make Saddam’s ambiguity look like hard reality. When Saddam’s breakout capability was revealed as mere freakout capability, it did him little good. If he’d had a fission bomb, the fission bomb would have given the U.S. pause over whether to invade Iraq or not. It probably would have deterred U.S. invasion in 2003 since it would have given opportunists who were for the war before they were against it like Mrs. Clinton (D-NY) and Mr. Kerry (D-MA) more cover to pre-bail on the Bush (R-TX) administration rather than post-bail as they did on our timeline. Iraqi technical incompetence is the primary reason Mr. Obama (D-IL) is president.


    Any aspiring fission power wants to be a fusion power. If possession of a fission weapon means the right to demand a certain deference from the other guy even when it’s you having back down, having a fusion weapon means never having to say you’re sorry. Members of the fusion club are even more select than members of the fission club. There is no theoretical upper limit to the yield of a fusion bomb (see under “Sun, the”). For warfare on the earth, there’s an upper practical efficiency limit since, if the explosion is too big, it ends up radiating most of its kinetic power into space to little useful effect.


    While I for one would never doubt the role of politics in any area of human existence, since the parties at this point are sharply divided by who their paymasters are and what range of opinions they can hold without becoming unelectable by their respective support bases, most members of the GOP are those who would oppose any agreement without significant teeth (like this one) and most members of the Democratic party are those who think talking and agreeing with anyone is an end unto itself (like this one) rather than a means to an end.


    I suspect an administration of any party would have had to look for some sort of direct or indirect understanding with the Iranians at this point. Many of the foreign countries who, unnaturally perhaps, supported the current sanctions regime are the same foreign countries who will start to undermine it as soon as they smell oil in the water.


    I also suspect the Iranians feel aggrieved at having to sign even a toothless agreement with a bumbling administration. Even the Shah, reputedly an ideal American poodle, chafed under the humiliation of having to negotiate the terms of Iranian military power (including the Shah’s aspirations for Iran to become a nuclear power) with his overbearing meddling American patron. The Persians are a proud people. They still chafe under the embarrassment of being conquered by Macedonians, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. As Iranian self-regard is rooted in that millennium of human experience during which the horse archer, a prime Persian product, was dominant, a bomb, even a fission bomb, has the ability to serve as the Iranian horse archer of the 21st century.

  18. Dave Schuler Says:

    “But lots of people, like Dave, don’t know what it means. Which is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s pretty specialized.”
    Oh, I know what the words mean, Cheryl. I just don’t understand the strategic significance.

  19. T. Greer Says:

    ut is it possible that such people are determining their views on this issue on the basis of their party-political affiliations, rather than on a judicious blend of technical, theological, geopolitical and linguistic expertises?
    Let it not be so!

    Charles, this is almost certainly so.


    However, I don’t really think of it as a bad thing. I have no expertise in the science of mass destruction, fission or fusion style. I know barely more about arms control regimes or the usual workings of the IAEA. In this I am hardly unique–it is a trait I share not only with the average voter, but with the fellow with an MA in security studies. So how does one assess the terms of a deal which one can only understand in abstract? You don’t — you either rely on the voice of experts who know more than you, or you assess the deal on how much your trust those delivering it. So the question “Is the Iran deal any good?” becomes “how much do you trust President Obama to provide a good deal?” Its a useful heuristic. If you trust Obama to negotiate a proper deal, then the deal he has negotiated is probably worth supporting. If, on the other hand, you don’t trust him to travel to the middle east without bowing to every third ruler, then whatever deal he negotiates is not worth supporting.


    There is a simple and compelling logic to voting with the party line.

  20. T. Greer Says:

    ^–“with the average fellow with an MA…”

  21. Charles Cameron Says:

    … happy trails, btw, Tanner!

  22. Charles Cameron Says:

    Here we go — Cheryl’s piece from War on the Rocks is out:


    Last week’s Associated Press story on nuclear inspections of an Iranian military facility left out key details on how inspections work, creating a misleading picture and introducing new controversy into the already heated debate on the Iran deal.

  23. Charles Cameron Says:



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