September 15, 2014
Location: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Choate Room
1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
Next week, negotiators from the United States, other world powers, and Iran will resume talks in New York to try to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal.
While significant progress has already been made on a number of key issues, negotiators remain far apart on how to define the size and scope of Iran's uranium enrichment program. But a win-win formula is possible, if both sides are willing to be creative and move beyond maximalist positions.
At this briefing, three leading experts will outline the key issues, the major hurdles, the political dynamics inside Iran, and realistic options for getting to "yes" -- including a new Arms Control Association/International Crisis Group proposal on how to define Iran's uranium enrichment program under a comprehensive deal.
- Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst, Arms Control Association;
- Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University;
- James Walsh, Research Associate, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and
- Daryl G. Kimball, (moderator), Executive Director, Arms Control Association.
Federal News Service
DARYL KIMBALL: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being so punctual. I’m Daryl Kimball with the Arms Control Association. We’re very glad that you’ve all joined us early this Monday morning for our briefing on squaring the Iranian nuclear circle, and this morning we’re going to try to unpack some of the key issues and the possible solutions for the P5+1 in Iranian nuclear negotiations, which as you all probably know, are going to resume this week at the United Nations in New York.
Clearly both sides have been negotiating seriously and for quite some time on a comprehensive joint plan of action to resolve the issues relating to and concerns relating to Iran’s nuclear program, but some big gaps still remain, and they’re going to need to be bridged before the negotiators’ November 24 target date.
In order to succeed, I think all of us here at the Arms Control Association, my colleagues on the panel today, believe that both sides are going to have to work a lot harder to see creative tradeoffs, particularly on the toughest issue, which is – seems to be defining Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity over the course of the multi-year agreement. And today we’ve got three very well-informed, very knowledgeable speakers who are going to describe for us where the negotiations currently stand, what can be done to bridge the remaining gaps and what President Obama, President Rouhani and their teams need to deliver in order to obtain the necessary support at home, in Washington and Tehran to support the implementation of what will be a very complex and controversial agreement if the negotiators can pull it together.
And so this morning I’m going to begin with Dr. Jim Walsh, who is research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Program. We’re very glad he can make it down from Cambridge to be with us this morning. For many years, Jim has been actively engaged in looking for solutions on the Iranian nuclear puzzle, through his own research, his work, his travels, and especially with his colleagues at the Iran project who do excellent work. He’s going to provide us with an opening overview of the several key issues that the negotiators are grappling with, where the two sides were able to make some progress before the last round of negotiations concluded in Vienna at the Coburg Palais on July 20th, and how, in general, the two sides need to adjust their positions in order to try to get to yes.
And then my colleague Kelsey Davenport, our director for nonproliferation policy, will outline what we believe is a potential formula for resolving differences over Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity that we at the Arms Control Association with our forensic colleagues at the International Crisis Group and other nonproliferation colleagues have put together and delivered to the negotiators just in the past two or three weeks, and which is outlined in the paper we have out on the table.
And last but not least we have with us Paul Pillar, who is now nonresident senior fellow with Brookings Institution and Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He has many years of experience as an intelligence analyst on WMD issues, including in the Middle East, and he’s going to provide us with his expert assessment of the goals and limitations, particularly on the Iranian negotiating team for – that they’re going to need to achieve in order to get the necessary support from the very complex set of political actors in Tehran for a comprehensive nuclear deal with the West.
And after each of them speaks for about 12, 15 minutes or so, we’re going to take your questions. And I can see that we’ve got a very well-informed audience here with us this morning.
So to begin, I’m going to turn to Jim Walsh. Jim, again, thanks for being with us – (off mic).
JIM WALSH: Well, thank you, Daryl. Thank all of you for coming out 9:30 on a Monday morning. What an awesome time for an event. (Laughter.) I know I wouldn’t want to listen to me at 9:30 in the morning. (Laughter.) And I’m going to try not to.
I want to also say by way of introduction that I have – I am personally biased. I have a personal stake in the outcome of this negotiation. I am hopeful that we will have a negotiated settlement with Iran because I’ve been working on this issue almost a decade and a half, and I am sick and tired of it. And I would like to move on to some other issue, but hopefully I’ll be able to.
Let me – you mentioned the Iran Project, Daryl. I just want to say that this week the Iran Project, my friends Bull Luers, Tom Pickering, Paul Pillar et al are going to be releasing an important report on Iran and the region after a nuclear agreement, assuming there’s a nuclear agreement – what are the implications for U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, for Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia and others in the region. And like so many of our reports, it’s been endorsed by a group of people who are on – from both parties – Brent Scowcroft, Brzezinski, Gelb, Winston Lord, Ryan Crocker, Joe Nye and others. So it’s quite a lineup or people who have worked through what the implications are for regional foreign policy after a nuclear agreement, and I encourage you to look at it later this week.
My task is to provide an overall picture and not to step on anybody toes and steal their thunder. So let’s begin at the beginning. I think the most important fact that we start with is that we’ve had a joint plan of action that is now over six months implemented. It is not where we want to be. It’s not all that it could be. And yet we have it and it has worked. And there is no one, not a single critic who predicted that they sky would fall after having a JPLA. None of that has happened. The IAEA continues to report on a monthly basis that both sides have lived up to the obligations, the commitments that have undertaken.
And that – and that’s particularly important to the United States because we got our number one nonproliferation agenda item: We got no 20 percent. That was our number issue. They did not get their number one issue. They didn’t get banking or financial sanctions. But we’ve seen an end to the production of 20 percent enriched uranium, and we’ve seen the stockpile, that 20 percent, diluted or otherwise disposed of in a way that doesn’t constitute a proliferation threat. That is a huge win. And the fact that it’s been implemented and continues to be implemented I think is a win.
But of course, there are issues that remain, and this will not be easy. I’m just going to telegraphically cover a few of them. I’m going to start with the good news.
There seems to have been progress, although we won’t know – and of course, nothing is settled until everything is settled – but it appears as if there has been some progress on the – what will be the future of the Arak reactor and the associated facilities for that heavy water reactor. You know, whether that means that the power will be lowered so it produces less plutonium, whether it’ll be reconfigured, whatever it is, there seems to be signals from both sides that there’s been progress on that, and that has been something that people have written about and worried about. It’s been less of a concern for me. We can talk about that in question and answer. But nevertheless, it has been a concern for some. But it seems like there’s been progress.
Fordow – you know, the Fordow reactor site buried underground, I would say if 20 percent was the top nonproliferation agenda time for the U.S. going into these negotiations, Fordow was second, in part because of Israel’s concerns about a(n) enrichment facility buried underground. And it seems as if progress has been made on that, which among the – if you were starting a year ago, you might say that one would be really, really difficult to handle. And yet it seems as if it’s going to be a research and development facility, or it’s going to do some different things, but it appears it has the look and feel of an issue that – for which there has been progress.
Obviously, I said on the 20 percent issue, we’ve already achieved that, achieved, of course, only if we are able to reach a comprehensive settlement.
In the news today from Reuters and then this past week, you’ve been reading about another issue, a fourth issue, which is possible military dimensions, which refers to Iran’s activities, particularly prior to 2003, although some suspect there may have been unstructured activities after 2003 related to weaponization or a weapons program, research that had possible military dimensions. And if you read the Reuters report this morning and you know and you followed it this last week that there continues to be push and pull over this, that Iran has missed the deadline on the various – you know, it’s done, what, two and – it’s making progress on three out of roughly 12 or 18 measures it’s supposed to make progress on.
If you ask me, we’re not going to see a resolution of that issue, at least not before a comprehensive agreement. Now, would I like to see it resolved? Of course I’d like to see it resolved. It would be awesome. But if you’re sitting in Tehran and you say to yourself, well, if I resolve all this with the IAEA, what does it get me? Do the sanctions, are they relieved? Does anything happen? The answer’s no. So there is no strong incentive for them to settle up until there is an agreement with the P5+1. That’s just the politics of the situation. And so I expect sort of slowness, and, you know, some progress, but I don’t expect any final resolution to possible military dimensions, which is on a separate timeline anyway. I mean, I think that’s going to be a process that requires more than two months. But in any case, whether it was two months or six months or 10 months, I don’t think, from a political standpoint, we should expect that that’s going to be resolved. It’s not going to be resolved until there’s an agreement. And then when Iran sees there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that this is actually moving towards resolution, that things will – that there is a path towards a better place, I think then you’ll see it resolve. There’s no reason for them to do so beforehand.
So I think we’re going to periodically see these stories over the next several months, but I really wouldn’t fret about them too much. I think the biggest issue is enrichment. And here I plan to go on for a really long time, thus preempting everything you want to say. (Laughter.)
KELSEY DAVENPORT: Make my job easier.
MR. WALSH: So I will just say, obviously – at least according to the reporting and according to the Iranians, who are the best source of information about the American position, the Iranians – (laughter). It’s true. It’s true. It’s true. It’s always been true. They blab. Obviously the size and scope and duration of that program and the duration of the agreement are very much issues that remain unresolved. And it’s often now being talked about in terms of number of centrifuges – 5,000 centrifuges, 9,000 centrifuges – the amount of SWU – 190,000 SWU, 10,000 SWU – and there appears to be a gap between people about how to resolve that.
So I’m just going to leave that there, but it leads me to the second point I want to talk about, which is, I think – both on the part of the negotiators and on the part of us, the consuming public – that there is a fixation on numbers and on flawed concepts.
Now, let me start with the flawed concepts. I’m happy to report that it seems that over time people have gotten smarter about the notion of breakout, which has long been something that has irritated me to no end. As you all know, breakout time has been defined as the amount of time it takes for a country to produce one significant quantity of fissile material. There has never been, in the history of the nuclear age, any country that broke out for the purpose of building one bomb, ever. It never happened, right? And if they test it, they’d be screwed, right, because then they’d use it all up.
So it’s an indicator, but it seems to take on a religious significance for a long time. I think we now are starting to have a better-informed debate about that. People understand the limitations of this, even if we’re stuck with it. So hopefully it’s not going to continue to vex us. But I think we’re still – even though we may be more sophisticated in the concepts we bring to discuss these negotiations, we are fixated on the numbers.
And this is not a new thing. People have always fixated on the numbers in negotiations. And I think that represents a misunderstanding of how and why agreements work. I mean, the numbers, the substance is important. It might not be as important as the negotiators tell you it is, because they believe it is, because that’s what they do for a living, but I think we need to step back and understand why it is that agreements work.
We have a wealth of experience in negotiating arms control and nonproliferation agreements: SALT, START, the NPT, Libya, the Syrian chemical weapons. There is a long history here, and it was one of overwhelming success – not perfect success but really overwhelming success. And to listen to the critics of the agreement, you’d think that we’ve never negotiated one of these before.
And when you go back and you look historically at the discussions about SALT and START and the Committee on the Present Danger – remember them, those of you old enough in the room to remember that – it was fixation over a number of launchers, and if we do this and if we do that. And if we have five less launchers, then the Soviet Union is going to take over the world. You know, that was the nature of the debate.
And history has shown that that debate was flawed. The presumptions were flawed. The Soviet Union went away. But what was important was having an agreement. Why? Because while the numbers – you know, you need good numbers. They can’t be made up. But the reason why agreements work is not because of numbers. It’s because agreements change the political relationship between states and it changes the political relationships within a state.
Now, what has the DNI told us about Iran on the nuclear precipice? And it set it at high confidence in public testimony year after year after year after year after year, and it said that Iran has a basic capability; it can produce a centrifuge. You can’t bomb the knowledge of how to build a centrifuge out of their heads. They have a basic capability. But they have not made the bomb decision. They have not made the decision to pursue nuclear weapons. And the DNI goes on to say, we don’t know if they are going to make that decision. They could make it in the future. We know they haven’t made it yet and that their decision will be influenced by costs and benefits.
So we have a country that is at a crossroads here in its regional relationships and in its nuclear future. It hasn’t decided to build the bomb and it can choose one side or the other. And we have a new president in Iran, President Rouhani. And the pragmatists have once again taken power for how long? I don’t know. Certainly if they fail in this regard they will not be in power long.
So here we are, a moment where a nuclear agreement might change the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, between others and Iran, and might change the internal politics within Iran. And that, my friends, is what will determine whether Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state, not whether there’s 5,900 centrifuges or 6,000 centrifuges, even though that’s all that we’re going to talk about.
So I think we need to step back, have a sense of, we have done this before. There are always risks. No agreement has been perfect. The NPT did not have an enforcement clause. The NPT allowed for peaceful nuclear explosions. Who would do that? I mean, if we tried to pass that treaty now, people would wave their hands and object and stomp their feet: This is a weak treaty. And it turns out to be only the most important, effective nuclear nonproliferation treaty ever in the history of the world. So I do think we need to step away from the fixation on numbers and the fixation on flawed concepts, put this in some context, and seize the opportunity while it lasts because it will not last forever.
Moving forward, we have about two months to go here and then this is it. This is it. The two sides need to get real. And I propose, as we discuss this going forward over these two months, and if there is an agreement in the months that follow where we debate the merits of this agreement, my request is that we have an evidence-based discussion. You’ve heard of evidence-based medicine, evidence-based outcomes for education, but on foreign policy not a lot of evidence-based anything.
So, for example, we had the critics say of the JPOA – predicting that sanctions would collapse after the JPOA. It did not happen. Well, I think, going forward, when people make predictions, then we need to look at their track record and say, what is the evidence for that? How accurate have you been in the past? And that applies to all sides. It applies to things that I would say and it applies – I think if we use that standard, we’ll have a better conversation.
And I think we need to keep in mind what will happen if we fail, you know, whether it’s the P5+1, whether it’s Iran, whether it’s a pox on both your houses. Failure looks really, really, really bad. And how do we know this? Because we’ve seen it. We saw what happened in 2005. In 2005, after the collapse of the negotiations with EU 3, what happened? It was a race to the bottom – more centrifuges. They went from 164 centrifuges to 19,000 centrifuges. They went from no 20 percent – 20 percent wasn’t even a thought in their head in 2005 – to producing 20 percent enriched uranium.
So if these negotiations fail, the U.S. Congress will immediately pass sanctions. They will immediately fire up their centrifuges, produce 20 percent. They’ll probably fire up the advanced centrifuges which they have yet to use. It will embolden and strengthen those who are in favor or nuclear weapons within Iran. It will weaken those who oppose nuclear weapons in Iran, because not only does an agreement shape the relations that countries have with each other and their internal politics, the failure of an agreement does the same thing but in an opposite direction.
So I think that’s a pretty ugly future. And then we will be right back to talk about military strikes and all the rest of it. So we need to weigh what is possible, what we have learned from the past about what is possible and achievable, what success looks like, and we need to keep in mind what failure looks like, because it is coming fast towards us if in two months’ time we are not able to resolve our differences. Thanks very much.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you, Jim, for waking us up this morning, reminding us why this is so important. And, I mean, just to sum up one of – one of the – your themes here, you know, we hear, often, critics of this negotiation that no deal is better than a bad deal, but clearly a good deal is better than no deal and we believe that a good deal is within reach.
And one of the key hurdles left for the negotiators to bridge has to do with those numbers, particularly the centrifuge numbers, the uranium stockpile numbers. And Kelsey Davenport is going to talk a little bit about some solutions towards that, that we have been putting together over the last several weeks to try to point the negotiators in the right direction.
MS. DAVENPORT: Great. Thank you, Daryl. And thank you, Jim, for not giving my presentation for me, although that would have been very easy. I could have just said I agree with everything he said and we could have moved on to Paul.
But it became very clear leading up to the July 20th extension that the size and the scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment program was one of the most significant obstacles that remained in the talks between Iran and the P5+1. And looking back at last November’s Joint Plan of Action, it’s very easy to see why this is such a difficult obstacle to deal with.
The Joint Plan of Action said that Iran’s uranium enrichment program in a final deal would be based on its practical needs. Now that sounds like a technical assessment, but both sides have a significant amount of politics that are motivating how they assess practical needs. For Iran, that’s looking into the future, wanting to produce enough fuel for its sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr by 2021, when the Russian fuel supply contract ends. And for the P5+1 , that’s reducing Iran’s operating centrifuges, which are about 10,200 currently, and pushing them down perhaps even as low as 1,500 centrifuges to really increase the amount of time that it would take Iran to move rapidly towards producing weapons-grade enriched uranium.
So the politics behind this sort of technical assessment has led to a lot of posturing from both sides. We’ve heard the supreme leader say, oh, we need 190,000 SWU or 100,000 centrifuges by 2021. We’ve seen in the U.S. people say no enrichment or we need to reduce those numbers down to 1,500 centrifuges.
And as Jim said, there’s a fixation on numbers, particularly on the numbers of centrifuges. So how do you find sort of the right number that meets the goals of both sides? And the wide gaps that we see between these numbers are what led the Arms Control Association to work closely with the International Crisis Group to come up with a formula that looks at a number of factors that we believe meet sort of the most pressing concerns of both sides. For Iran, this allows them to keep in place a meaningful uranium enrichment program and allows them slowly over time to move towards self-sufficiency for providing fuel for its reactors sort of far into the future if foreign fuel supplies aren’t available.
And for the United States and its P5+1 partners, it dramatically increases the time that it would take Iran to move quickly towards a significant quantity of enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. Right now that timeline is currently around two to three months, and our proposal in the first few years would push that timeline to nine to 12 months.
So as Daryl and I have sold this proposal, I think, using – borrowing from Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones and saying that, you know, each side may not get everything at once, but this formula will allow it to get what they need. So –
MR. : (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MS. DAVENPORT: I would like –
MR. : (Off mic.)
MS. DAVENPORT: I would like the audience to stay, so I’m not going to try singing it.
MR. : (Off mic.) (Laughter.)
MS. DAVENPORT: That is – that is probably true. But if Daryl wants to chime in, though, I’d be – I’d be happy to hear that.
But so the details of our proposal were available outside in a nuclear policy brief that I hope you’ve picked up, and I’m just going to go through some of the main components of sort of the three-stage proposal that we have outlined for the size and scope of the uranium enrichment program.
Now we are not selling this as the solution to this problem, but what we really want to do is sort of raise and debate in conversation this idea that if we play with a number of factors, we can meet both of these goals for Iran and for the P5+1 and bridge this gap before sort of the new deadline for the comprehensive deal on November 24th.
So in the first phase of our uranium enrichment sort of proposal, we suggest that Iran reduce slightly its number of operating centrifuges from the approximately sort of 10,200 to 5(,000) to 6,000, and the other centrifuges that are installed but not operating would be moved into sort of a monitored storage. And at the same time, Iran would continue to convert its stockpile of 3.5 percent enriched uranium, of which it has about 7,500 kilograms right now, into a powder form that makes it more difficult to enrich further. And they’d keep this stockpile for the duration of the deal, sort of below 200 kilograms.
Now in total, this increases the amount of time it would take Iran to move quickly towards weapons-grade uranium for a bomb – as I said, for about two to three months to about nine to 12 months.
Now in return for these light reductions, Iran would receive further guarantees of fuel for the Bushehr reactor from Russia. Russia would deliver up to five years’ worth of fuel at a time so that Iran could be sure that it would have those foreign supplies. And that’s very important to Iran given its past experiences working with Eurodif, where it lost a great deal of money that it had invested and never received any uranium fuel in a cooperation agreement with the French and some other parties, and based on its experience just building Bushehr, where a lot of the foreign actors that were assisting Iran in the construction did not sort of come through on time.
Also in relation to research and development, Iran would be able to continue working on its advanced centrifuges, but the efficiency of those centrifuges would be capped. And again, that’s very important to Iran because moving forward, if they get to the point where they begin to produce enriched uranium for their actual power reactors, it will need sort of these more advanced machines. And this is in line with what Iran has said, that it does not want to keep focusing on its IR-1 centrifuge, which is what it has operating now, because they’re very inefficient.
So this phase we see lasting sort of two to three years. And when Iran meets the IAEA’s sort of conditions to resolve its possible military dimensions, then we can move into the second phase. And within the second phase, Iran would be able to slowly increase its enrichment capacity back to the current levels that it’s capped at now, about 94,000 SWU or 10,200 sort of IR-1 centrifuges. And at this point, it could also begin to gradually transition the IR-1 centrifuges to the more advanced IR-2 machines, which is what Iran has said it would like to do sort of moving forward.
It could also begin to work on more – slightly more advanced centrifuges in research and development, and that would all occur at the Fordow facility. As Jim said, one of the P5+1 ’s main concerns is that enrichment would continue sort of at Fordow, so we suggest keeping research and development at that facility, which allows Iran to say the facility is still operating, but it’s not part of the actual production of uranium enrichment, which makes it far less of a proliferation threat.
At this point, the IAEA could also begin working with Iran on fuel fabrication, so it could get to the point where it could actually begin to produce the fuel assemblies that it would need for Bushehr. And this plays into this idea that Iran eventually, like I said, wants to be sort of self-sufficient. So it puts in place the technology that they’re looking for and a slightly expanded enrichment capacity that will allow them at the end of the deal to move towards producing the enriched uranium for any future power reactors that they may build.
Then moving into the third phase, which we see in sort of the period of five to 10 years after the initial agreement is reached, Iran could continue transitioning the IR-1 centrifuges to the IR-2s. It could begin producing more advanced centrifuges, so at the culmination of the deal if it chose to scale up its enrichment program, it could do so. And – but all of this would be contingent on the IAEA reaching what’s referred to as its broad conclusion, meaning it could say with confidence that all of Iran’s nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes, which is something that it cannot do now.
It would also allow sort of, again, continued R&D on advanced centrifuges in the third phase, and the U.S. and its P5+1 partners would continue supplying fuel for Bushehr, with the idea that, again, if there is consistent fuel supplies coming in for Iran’s power reactors, Iran would not feel the need to sort of dramatically scale up its centrifuges right at the end of the deal.
So as I said, we feel that this proposal has some merits because by combining some limits on centrifuges, by keeping the stockpile low, but allowing Iran to still continue research and development on its advanced centrifuges, it sort of meets the core requirements of both sides. Iran can sell this deal by saying that the slight reduction of centrifuges is for a very limited time, but it will then be able to scale up. But it wins on sort of this research and development question, which has been very difficult for the P5+1 and remains a concern that if Iran is allowed unlimited research and development, it would be able to move quickly towards much more advanced centrifuges that would allow it to rapidly move towards nuclear weapons. So there’s a compromise there, and it also moves the timeline back that it would take Iran to move towards enough enriched uranium for one weapon initially from nine to 12 months and then to over six months as Iran sort of moves up its uranium enrichment capacity back to its current levels.
So as we said, it’s not everybody getting what they want, but we think that this proposal meets sort of the main goals of both sides by playing with this, this combination of factors.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much.
And so for those of you who aren’t sure what SWU is yet, separative work units – right, Jonathan? That is the amount of effort it takes to separate U-235 from 238 in the enrichment process. And there’s actually an app for that. (Laughter.) So – if you’re looking to find out more.
So thank you very much and – for that overview, Kelsey, and for those of you who want to look at it in more detail, the paper out, our Iran nuclear policy brief, describes that.
And I would just add that, you know, we were looking at one element of this multipart negotiation. In order to be successful, this agreement is going to have to, as Jim was outlining, resolve the concerns about the plutonium path. The Arak heavy-water reactor is going to have put in place more extensive inspections under the terms of the additional protocol plus, and for the Iranians, there’s going to have to be sufficient sanctions relief and eventually sanctions removal over the course of the agreement and of course the resolution of the IAEA investigation on the possible military dimensions concerns.
So that’s how we, as experts here in Washington who travel around, talking to different diplomats, see things. But we were hoping that Paul Pillar could give us his perspectives on how this situation, this negotiation, is viewed, particularly inside Tehran, to give us understanding of what Javad Zarif and his team probably have to deliver in order to obtain necessary support there. And of course Paul has some important perspectives on the same question here in Washington.
So, Paul, please take it away. Thanks for being here.
PAUL PILLAR: OK. Thanks. Thanks, Daryl, and good morning, everyone.
It really shouldn’t be very hard for us to understand the Iranian perspective on this – these issues, because if the roles were reversed, we Americans would be insisting on some of the very same things – almost all the same things – that the Iranians are insisting on. In other words, the Iranian position is not the result of some alien messianic religiously driven thought process that is fundamentally different from the way we would approach things, you know, if it were our nuclear program and our security and our economy being sanctioned. It really is pretty easy to understand.
The Iranians reject the whole idea of double standards being applied against themselves. You know, they look at the global nonproliferation regime, and they don’t see anywhere in the NPT or anything else a prohibition against peaceful nuclear programs that include uranium enrichment. And they in fact see, you know, several non-nuclear weapons states that do their own enrichment.
They certainly do not consider it, as some people in this town consider it, a big concession on the part of the P5+1 negotiators to say in the JPOA that yes, Iran can have some enrichment. I don’t think they would consider that a concession at all, because if it’s looked at that way, then that clearly is a double standard that is implied and is being applied uniquely against Iran.
The Iranians are adherents to the – or parties to the NPT, as you all know. And they would consider themselves to be better citizens in that regard, therefore, than some of the other members of the community of nations who have either not subscribed to the NPT or did and then withdrew from it, like the North Koreans, and in the case of several of the countries we know, they actually went ahead and developed nuclear weapons, some of which have been then tacitly if not explicitly accepted, like those of the Indians.
So you know, they’re – you know, they have eyes too. They look at the world and the nonproliferation regime, what’s going on out there, and they believe quite sincerely they have a legitimate reason for asking, you know, why all of this being directed against us?
This clearly plays into one of the outstanding issues – I can’t remember if Jim or Kelsey alluded to it – you know, the duration of the agreement, which will be one of the things yet to be determined by the negotiators, how long will whatever restrictions and sanctions apply to Iran, how long will that exist before the whole thing can be declared over and completed, and Iran and everyone else can say, well, Iran is back to a situation of normality. Clearly the Iranians consider it rather important that that not be a big, long period, like 20 years or something of that scale. Various time frames have been thrown out. I don’t want to get into the numbers. But that is important to them.
Iran believes – with good reason, in my judgment – that it has shown most of the flexibility already. One only has to look at that Joint Plan of Action that was agreed to last November, take a look at the terms, compare those terms to what the situation was prior to the JPOA and ask yourself who made most of the concessions. And I think a fair judgment is it was the Iranians that made most of them, which is a complication, by the way, in terms of the politics of getting, you know, through these next couple of months and getting to a final agreement, because in some respects, our side is going to have to make most of the remaining concessions, particularly when we get to the sanctions, which I’m going to talk about in just a moment.
Part of the background that the Iranians look at it is that we – especially we in the United States – have given them good reason to question whether we really want an agreement, as opposed to still being hung up on regime change, and that this is something like – oh, you know, like the Israelis talk about Hamas. Well, they just want to temporarily have a, you know, hudna, but they really want to destroy us. There is a lot of belief still in Tehran that that reflects a good deal of the American opinion about Iran, and that is part of the backdrop to how they interpret the negotiations.
There is a real trustworthiness issue. As Kelsey mentioned, the Iranians have been given good reason to not want to rely on things like foreign fuel supplies for their nuclear program. This obviously plays into that whole issue of enrichment capacity that Kelsey and my colleagues just discussed. It is why the Iranians have been slow – we might consider them to have been, by our view – in accepting the whole idea of relying on the Russians or someone else, you know, even for a time, to have their fuel needs met. They do want to be self-sufficient, and the sooner, the better.
The Iranians are not going to be very swayed by Westerners lecturing them about what their practical needs are for their own program. The untrustworthiness aspect and that past history about fuel supplies and so on is part of it, but it’s also because for the Iranians this is not just a mechanistic matter of how many SWU it takes to support, you know, what capacity of reactors. There is an emotional component and a political component. We’re talking about a program that dates back in its origins to the time of the shah, a program in which the Iranians have invested an enormous amount of time and expense and effort, and that being the case, no Iranian politician is going to take lightly any sort of formula that involves dismantling or destroying a large part of what they have with great pride built.
And that gets to another part of the political backdrop in Iran, which is that there is broad support across the Iranian political spectrum, inside and outside the regime – and we’ve – there polls that have indicated this – for a continued peaceful nuclear program. It is the main fundamental reason that the whole idea of a no-enrichment formula was a nonstarter from the very beginning, as far as possible agreements are concerned.
President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif clearly do want an agreement and want an agreement that would effectively preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon. It is simply too hard to explain their behavior and their policy in the year since Mr. Rouhani took office without that being the basic explanation.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, also evidently is at least open to such an agreement, because it is implausible politically that Rouhani and Zarif would have done the things they’ve done and taken the positions they’ve taken and agree to the JPOA as they did if they hadn’t gotten at least some kind of tacit endorsement from the supreme leader. The Ayatollah is, however, even more so than Rouhani and Zarif, highly distrustful and suspicious of us and our intentions and our objectives. He is quite explicit about that. He has been very pessimistic publicly – more so than our president has been – about the prospects for an agreement. But again, we wouldn’t have been seeing the Iranian policies and negotiating behavior that we have if he hadn’t given Rouhani and Zarif the go-ahead to do it.
He has publicly given himself plenty of room, if the negotiations fail, to be able to say, I told you so, and Mr. Rouhani, you made a good run at it, but this was your project, not mine. We hope it won’t come to that, but the Ayatollah, again, being a very pessimistic person about this, has given himself that out if it comes to that. Both Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei have to deal with hard liners, especially those centered in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, some of whom, quite frankly, would not welcome an agreement. For some of the mirror image reasons, in some ways, that some people on our side would not welcome an agreement. And in fact, there’s an awful lot of symmetry in that regard. The negotiators and the governments on both sides have to deal with an internal opposition that has a variety of reasons to be suspicious of any agreement or to oppose an agreement.
The outcome of the talks and whether, in fact, the negotiations succeed will go a long way toward determining the near to mid-term politics in Tehran, and in particular, President Rouhani’s fate. Well, he’s going to serve out a four-year term, but whether he serves it out as an effectively lame duck for most purposes or becomes the harbinger and the pioneer in a more reasonable and moderate turn in Iranian politics will depend greatly on this one diplomatic endeavor in which he and his foreign minister have placed an awful lot of their effort and prestige.
Exactly what balance, as the – as we get down to November, they will decide to strike between, on the one hand, getting an agreement, and with it, getting sanctions relief that is economically important to their constituencies, and thus, to them, while on the other hand, sufficiently satisfying all those other considerations that I’ve talked about before in terms of double standards, in terms of pride in the program and so on in order that they would not be accused by their hardline opponents of selling Iran down the river, I think those are decisions yet to be made, depending on what the P5+1 ’s negotiating posture and behavior will be over these next couple of months. I mentioned sanctions and economic improvement, and that is something we haven’t talked about here at all yet, but that, obviously, is at least as important to the Iranians as all these other things.
The Iranians realize, with all the sanctions that the United States, especially unilaterally, has piled up over the years, that they’re not going to get all this lifted all at once. They don’t expect that. There will be some kind of phasing in or phasing out, if that’s the right way to look at it, with regard to sanctions – formula, but they also – getting back to a previous point – realize that they have already done, up front, most of what’s required. No more 20 percent – already intrusive inspections and so on. And so they would have little patience – they do have little patience with the whole “Iran has to prove itself” line of argument that you hear some in this town – in support of dragging out the sanctions relief for years and years and years, and that’s, of course, related to the issue of completing fulfillment of the agreement, and when does Iran return to normality?
I think most Iranians would be nodding their heads in approval to what Kelsey talked about earlier in terms of, part of what has to be proven in the first years of implementation of an agreement is the trustworthiness of the non-Iranian side with regard to fuel supplies. We’ll see how that plays out, too.
A summary point – the Iranians are not going to cry uncle, which seems to be the basis for a lot of what you’ve heard over the last year or two here in Washington, that, you know, that if we just turn that sanctions crank a little bit harder – you know, a few more notches – squeeze them just a little bit more, then suddenly, there will be a day when the Ayatollah says, OK, OK, we give up. All right, we’ll get rid of this stuff, you know. That is not going to happen. It never will happen.
And I think one of the things we need for an agreement to close these remaining gaps is for us in the United States to realize, going back to my opening point, that the perspectives over there really are very similar to the kind we would have if we were in their shoes, and that diplomacy and completing agreements does not consist of our drawing a red line, making demands and deciding how much punishment to inflict on the other side before they cry uncle. It doesn’t work in other cases, and it certainly won’t work in this one.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much for that great overview, all three of you, for teeing this up. It’s now your turn, audience, for insightful questions – (laughter) – basic questions – any questions you might have – other thoughts, and the microphone will come around. So why don’t you come up – Jonathan Landay with McClatchy has a question. Good to see you, Jonathan.
Q: I’d like to know what you think the place for the possibility military dimension settlement is. Surely, any agreement that comes out of the P5+1 will be predicated on clearing that up. And are the – to what extent are the Iranians aware of that, and to what extent do you think, eventually, they’ll be willing to come up with some formula that says, well, some people were experimenting, but it was against orders. I mean, how do you think that is going to play out.
MR. KIMBALL: Well, maybe – each of you, I’m sure, have talked about this, but Kelsey, just remind us what the issues are – where things stand, what’s happened lately just so that we’re grounded in that.
MS. DAVENPORT: Sure. Well, Iran and the IAEA have been negotiating on a separate track, as I’m sure many of you know, to clear up these issues. They reached an agreement in November that said, you know, Iran would cooperate with the IAEA. And they’ve laid out sets of actions. Right now, they’re in their third set of actions, which incorporates two of these possible military dimensions. And these are activities that Iran is believed to have taken in the past, that are related to the development of nuclear weapons. And I should say “alleged” activities, because Iran disputes the evidence that the IAEA has. Iran missed a deadline for providing information about two of these issues to the IAEA – an August 25th deadline.
Just this morning, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, in his opening remarks to the agency’s board of governors, said that the IAEA is working with Iran on these resolving these two issues. So one of the things that ACA has supported is, within a context of a P5+1 agreement, saying that the information that Iran provides to the IAEA should be used – on the PMDs – should be used for informational purposes only. So Iran will not be penalized on its nuclear program going forward, based on what it is has done, sort of, in the past. And I’m sure both of my colleagues probably have thoughts on how to deal with this issue as well. But that’s kind of where we see that going as a possible like –
MR. KIMBALL: (Inaudible.)
MR. WALSH: I think it’s a good question. Let me start with the affirmation that I believe Iran did have a weapons program in the late 1990s, and they did halt it in 2003. I think the key word there, coming from the intelligence community, is a structured nuclear weapons program. And as someone who studies nuclear weapons programs, structured is the most important word.
So I think they had something, and I think they’ve been beavering away at Parchin to try to cover up, pave over, you know, sanitize – use 409 – whatever it takes to make difficult the forensic investigation of that previous activity.
I also agree with you that it will have – there will have to be resolution of this for the final, final crossing the line. And then I would say, also, in the spirit of my earlier comments, that we should be evidence-based about this. So this is not the first time we’ve confronted this problem, right? We confronted it with South Africa and Iraq, which willingly – Iraq less so, but certainly, South Africa willingly gave up nuclear assets and had to plea to violations of its nuclear past. Egypt and South Korea also had violations that were investigated by the agency, though not with quite the same fanfare and spotlight. And you know, we can debate about how innocent – I think the Egyptian was pretty innocent, the South Korean less so, but people may disagree. And in the North Korean case, we also had settling.
So I expect the following based on our experience with these previous cases. I expect that there’s going to be something in the middle that Iran – and they already have come forward. I mean, they say – they admitted that they took the – you know, the A.Q. Khan blueprint and the other stuff, right? So we’re already in that territory. I admit – I admit – (laughs) – I admit that I actually build the weapon. (Laughter.)
I expect that they’re going to have to come forward. They’re going to not – they’re going to share more than they’ve shared but not everything they know. I think – there’s this argument that says we have to know everything that happened in the program or we can’t have any confidence going forward. That seems like a wildly speculative argument to me. I’m sure that’s partially true, but where in that continuum between knowing nothing and knowing everything – I’m not sure where in the middle it is.
But I don’t – I think some people are using possible military dimensions as another sword to skewer an agreement by requiring perfection. We’re not going to get perfection. We didn’t require perfection in the previous five cases that I’ve referred to. I think, as in those previous five cases, it’s like to be confidential. So a lot of it won’t come out in public. And that’s the only way to get it, is a guarantee that it won’t come out in public. And I know that’s not a very satisfying answer.
But in summary, they had a weapons program, they’re going to have to tell us more about it than they have. They’ve told us some, but they’re going to have to tell us more than they have. They’re not going to tell us everything. What they tell us is going to have to be private. And then, the question is where in that continuum in the middle where we feel like we have enough confidence going forward?
MR. KIMBALL: Paul.
MR. PILLAR: Clearly there are people who are using this as one more sword to try to skewer the agreement. There’s no doubt about that. We may have to face – the collective we, who’ve assessing a draft agreement – may have to decide whether we’re more concerned about events in the past or what Iran is doing now and in the future. I don’t think that we’re necessarily going to hear, maybe even privately, but I agree with Jim certainly not publicly – you know, about everything that was done in the past.
I, for one, think we ought to be focused a lot more on the present and the future than in the past. Senator Feinstein made a very eloquent speech on the floor of the Senate a couple months back on this whole topic. It was her major statement on this whole issue of the Iranian nuclear program, in which she phrased it in those terms about, nations having turned a corner, going from behavior we don’t like to behavior we can live with. And that’s what she hoped would happen with Iran. And I think that’s exactly the right way to look at it.
I think there are domestic political interests in Iran that would be highly resistant to letting it all hang out in terms of what was going on, you know, 2003 and before. And I see no reason why it would be wise for us to let that become a road block to an agreement that would substantially change the incentives and the reality of Iranian behavior from this date onward.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Thanks. And I would just add very quickly that the opposite is true too, that those of us who want to see this issue clarified and resolved need to recognize, as Jim said, that it is not going to be resolved so long as the P5+1 negotiations are still going on or if there’s not an agreement. And we’re more likely to see and get more information about Iran’s past possible military activities with the conclusion of the deal. And Iran knows that it’s not going to get the kind of sanctions removal that it’s ultimately looking for unless this is cleared up, which could take two, three, four, five years for the agency and the Iranians to accomplish.
All right, we got some other questions. Yes, Ed Levine, and then behind Ed.
MR. WALSH: Don’t let him ask a question, it will be too difficult. (Laughter.)
Q: I want to start with a quick comment and then a quick question. If our goal is to concentrate on the present and the future, perhaps what we should be asking for is access to the personnel who were involved in the past and a thorough understanding of the organizational structures that were used, plus a provision for the future that involves oversight of their procurement practices so that we will know what they are doing at early stages, rather than only when they produce something. My question is, how does what you would propose differ from what Bob Einhorn put forth in his open letter?
MR. KIMBALL: Well, let me take a crack at that, if I could, and maybe Jim and Kelsey have some thoughts. I mean, I think – let me, first of all, say that Kelsey and I and Ali Vaez from the Crisis Group starting thinking about putting together an illustrative proposal, which you now see, in mid-July. We developed this through the month of August, talked to a number of our colleagues, had a lot of good feedback, people who are named in the footnotes and those who are – and some who are not.
And just a couple days before we completed everything, Bob Einhorn’s letter that was published from the Brookings website and another website came out. And I would characterize our approach and the approach that Bob described in a little less detail as being generally consistent. You know, Bob did not sign off on this, but I think it’s generally consistent in the sense that both of us are looking for a compromise involving the quantity and the quality of centrifuges.
That is, the West giving in a little bit with respect to the type of centrifuge research that can be done over the course of an agreement. The Iranians need to be reducing the number of operating centrifuges, at least in the near term, to reduce the so-called breakout potential, with limits on the uranium material that is in-country that could be used in this program, with – combined with assistance from the outside – for instance, for the fuel for the Bushehr Reactor – or even technical assistance for the Iranians to make the fuel for the Bushehr Reactor, a capability they currently don’t have.
So I think we’re generally consistent. And that’s because there’s a certain logic to this negotiation that has now emerged, given the red lines that we see in Tehran and Washington, given the interests of both sides, differing respective interests. There are only a certain number of possibilities that the negotiators can pursue at this stage.
MR. WALSH: Bob is a friend and a colleague. And I loved that open letter. I thought it was terrific. And I would commend everyone to read it. I would also say, I hated the previous thing he wrote, which I thought was awful.
MR. KIMBALL: But let’s accentuate the positives.
MR. WALSH: Let’s accentuate the positives. So he had written a previous thing where it was all framed in breakout and coercive diplomacy and deterrence and has as its recommendation also that we seek an authorization of military force sort of as a general principle as part of the bargaining and agreement process. I thought that was completely wrongheaded. And so I was sort of girding myself as I started to read this open letter – fantastic. You know, and fantastic both in substance – and, of course, there’s enough space in there that people can take very different opinions.
But I thought good in substance, that is to say, to use time – as you guys do in your proposal – time as a way to – as a variable that smooths the process. You know, they don’t need 190,000 SWU now. They may never need – my own bet, if I was betting, they’re never going to build 10 power plants. That ain’t going to happen, right? And in 10 years, we’re going to be in a very different place and they’re going to be a very different place and nuclear is not going to be the big deal it is to them right now. This is my own view.
But in any case, that it should – that time – the use of time as a variable is a way to deal with some of the negotiating things because you don’t need to have lots of SWU if you don’t have a lot of need for it. So let’s face this. And you say you want these things, OK, but we don’t – you don’t need it all right now. That seems really, really reasonable. I would say the other thing that was really terrific, and of course Bob is a skilled diplomat with a lot of experience here, is the way he talked about it, which is so different from what you hear when I visit Washington.
He said – it is a letter to the Iranians. And he’s saying, you say this. I understand why you say what you’re saying. But here’s how we – what we hear when you say that. And here are our concerns about it. So that was one of reciprocity and respect, a recognition of their arguments but an explanation of why some of those arguments don’t, you know, work for us but in a way that’s not you’re an evildoer and you better get on your knees and do what we say. So I thought it was brilliant.
MR. PILLAR: Daryl, can I – can I just –
MR. KIMBALL: Yes. Paul.
MR. PILLAR: – comment on Ed’s earlier comment, which I think was a very reasonable one. I mean, there is a difference between making a demand that you fess to what you did in the past and what you’re recommending, which is saying, look, we need to know – we’re not asking you to, you know, plead guilty to what you did in the past, but we need to know, you know, what your procedures are and who your people are to assure us that nothing like that’s going to happen in the future. So I think – I think what you suggested, Ed (sp), is a – is a reasonable core for the way this issue might be handled.
MR. KIMBALL: Agreed. We have a question over here on the – near the painting. Thank you. If you could identify yourself.
Q: Thank you very much. Rafael Leal from the Brazilian embassy.
I would like to hear your take on the rationale or the lack of it of the additional imposed sanctions by Treasury and State Department. From what I could grasp, State Department focused pretty much on Fakhrizadeh, the alleged man behind the possible nuclear program of Iran. And the State Department – sorry, the Treasury sanctions, they focused among other things in front companies associated with Mahan Airlines. That’s the biggest airline in Iran, and it’s owned by Rafsanjani, who is himself the – responsible in my opinion for Rouhani being elected president. So what would be the logic of the Treasury to attack indirectly Rouhani, which seems to be willing for a deal in Iran? Also identified in the Treasury sanctions some effort to target Iranian help in Syria. So my question is, are those additional sanctions just internal politics to try to justify that Obama has not been weak when it comes to Iran in looking at the midterms or not? Thank you very much.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Very quickly, what’s our – what are our perspectives on these?
MR. : It’s your, baby.
MR. KIMBALL: Paul.
MR. PILLAR: I think your last comment is the basic explanation. It’s aimed more at domestic audiences, and Obama can’t be seen as weak, and so on and so forth. Far be it for me to try to come up with a plausible rationale for the State and Treasury departments on this.
I think the underlying disagreement between the United States and Iran on this is the difference between imposing new sanctions versus further execution and implementation of existing sanctions. And of course, this sort of – these sorts of measures are rationalized by our side as being implementation of something already on the books using powers already on the books, whereas new sanctions would be – (inaudible) – new legislation or a whole new executive order that would have – basically expand the authorities.
I certainly – we should not be at all surprised that the Iranians squawked about this. I would expect them to, and I think there is a lot of reason behind their complaints. But as to the explanation, I think it’s a matter of our policymakers having to deal with our hardliners, just like theirs have to deal with theirs.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Next question, please.
MR. WALSH: Can I – can I offer just one very briefly – I don’t know, I don’t know what Treasury was thinking. I met up with Treasury – the Treasury officials responsible for the sanctions, but this was a while ago.
My only comment is that whether justified or unjustified – and I’m not – you know, sanctions are tough; I’ve looked at them a long time, but I don’t consider myself a sanctions expert. The comment I would offer, though, is that any headline, true or false, of that kind weakens the Iranian political – the political stance of the Iranian leadership in trying to negotiate an agreement and puts pressure on them to find some way to respond in kind. That’s just whether – maybe the sanctions are justified, maybe they’re not; I don’t know. But I can tell you that’s the political reality that if that’s a headline that appears in Tehran, then it makes Rouhani and Zarif look weak. It feeds the narrative that we’re not really interested in this, we’re going to sanction regardless, and even if they agree to what we’re going to do, we’re still going to sanction. And it puts pressure on them to find some way to tweak us. So I’m sort of more focused on the consequences, I guess.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Yes, sir.
Q: Hi. My name is – (inaudible) – with Webster University. I like to, if I could, share with you an observation or two from my recent trip to Iran, which was about two weeks ago.
MR. KIMBALL: If you could be brief about it, yes, that’d be great.
Q: OK. I – the observation I had with the – from talking to some of the advisers to the government besides the negotiators pretty much substantiated and – the arguments that Dr. Pillar and you, Dr. Walsh, made. And that is very much the sensitivity of the Iranians that first of all, this whole process is more than technical. Technical issues pretty much can be, you know, solved and sorted out by the examples that Ms. Davenport and others have been saying. But the political is the really key that needs to be agreed on this both sides.
In addition, the elements that Dr. Pillar mentioned are really on the head of the – on the mind of the Iranians, basically the lack of trust for the whole process on the – on the American side. And to be brief about one items that perhaps were missed in Dr. Pillar’s comment is that they are really not sure that the administration can deliver what it promises, especially they follow very curiously the elections, the midterm elections, then perceive and they see that, you know, the Republicans are going to be the power. And the Congress – (inaudible) – Congress and the administration, they’re so – (inaudible). So they really know what goes on perhaps more than we do about our conflicting positions, and they hope that, you know, by interacting with them, perhaps Americans become aware that – where they stand. Thank you.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Thank you.
MR. WALSH: Can I actually still say something about that? Because I think it raises an interesting point.
You know, I’ve wondered myself, you know, about our ability to deliver on the deal. And, you know, people who have – I’d say 90 percent of the talk about the agreement has been – up to this point, I think it’ll change – has been about breakout, breakout, breakout. And I tried to make the point that agreements succeed for lots of different reasons that no one talks about, and they fail for lots of different reasons. What you try to do is augment the reasons that make agreements likely to succeed, which people ignore, and you try to minimize the ones – (inaudible) – fail. But breakout is the one that everyone’s obsessed with.
But, you know, I think it’s an interesting question. Is it more like – which is – going for it, which is the more likely scenario for the collapse of an agreement that is agreed to? That we fail to follow through on sanctions relief or that they break out? Just, you know, I’m not going to take a vote in the room, but I would ask you to ask yourself, which is the higher probability? I think – you know, I’m not – well, I think I know the answer, but, you know, I – and that answer then leads you to other sorts of conclusions.
MR. KIMBALL: We have a couple questions. In the second row, please, and then come up front.
Q: Sort of getting at some of the questions asked previously, certainly focusing on uranium is fair enough. But to build new weapon, you need a lot more than just uranium.
MR. KIMBAL : Yes. Yes.
Q: And so it seems, at least to me, that the other issues that in building a weapon are not getting as much scrutiny, if you will, as they deserve. And when you say, ah, they did stuff till 2003, it seems that it is pretty important to know how far they progress, and whether it’s in explosives, whether it’s in making things smaller or whatever, all of these issues come into it. Plus we have another country called Israel who’s looking at this breakout number. And so it seems to me you got to take all of these issues plus the focus of this meeting, which is rightfully I think on uranium. And I wonder what the panel thinks about the other issues and how it might affect Israel and what they might think is the breakout point at which they might act whether the U.S. does.
MR. KIMBALL: Let me ask Paul to weigh in on this, but let me just first clarify that, you know, the Arms Control Association has been working hard over the last year plus to try to remind policymakers, the press that there are several steps that are necessary to build a nuclear arsenal. And one of the starting points, one of, is amassing enough uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 90 percent that then could be turned into metal form, shaped into a device, possibly tested. Then you need to have, as Jim said, more than one – more – enough material for more than one device to really make an arsenal. You might want to test a device. You might need to test (mated ?) warhead on delivery system. So it takes more than just the amount of time to amass enough uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 90 percent.
But that’s a key metric, in part because many of us believe that the Iranians have made significant progress towards the research necessary to miniaturize the device, to design the device. It is possible theoretically to do some of this work in secret. Right now we don’t have the additional protocol to do inspections at undeclared sites. So, you know, this one metric is important, but it’s not the be all and end all and doesn’t mean that the Iranians are going to have a nuclear arsenal that can threaten Los Angeles or Des Moines or Washington in two to three months or nine to 12 months or whatever.
The proposal that we’ve been outlining here, Arms Control Association proposal, would significantly increase the time. And in our view, and I think in the view of many others, I’d be interested in Paul’s perspective, give the international community and certainly the United States the time and the means to detect and disrupt any such effort before it was completed. So, I mean, that’s what we need to achieve.
But Paul, tell us – give us your perspectives on how professionals in the business calculate some of these issues and make key judgments about them.
MR. PILLAR: Well, I haven’t been that kind of professional in the business for a while, so I’m not going to pretend to do that. But at the risk – at the risk of getting into the technical areas – and my colleague is no better – I think it is fair to say that, you know, production of fissile material is still what the analysts would call the pacing factor in most, you know, potential proliferation concerns.
If needed the Iranians, as was reported in the unclassified version of that estimate that was published in 2007, had been doing weaponization, weapons design work and cease doing that work in 2003, there seem to be continuing disagreements about how to interpret that – any Iranian decision in 2003. Defenders of the Bush administration’s policies, for example, say, aha, that coincided with the invasion of Iraq and the fact that we bumped off Saddam Hussein while telling the Iranians, take a number, indicates a favorable spillover effect of the invasion of Iraq. An alternative view would be that because the production of fissile material is the pacing factor, even if the Iranians wanted to preserve the option of a weapon, they had already done enough work at that point that they could sit the work on the shelf for a while, and it would not affect the date when they would have capability for a weapon. I tend to think the latter explanation is probably more true.
You alluded briefly to the Israeli side of things and what they might assess. My only comment on that is you have to take everything that the Israeli government says on this with a huge grain of salt in that they have, you know, other reasons to oppose the agreement. There is a lot of analytical differences of view here in Washington among people like myself as to whether – well, to what extent the threat of an Iranian – or, excuse me, the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran is real as opposed to being one more way of squeezing us and squeezing Iran as well. So I would just be very cautious about taking any of that at face value.
MR. WALSH: May I add something super quickly?
MR. KIMBALL: Yeah.
MR. WALSH: So I would say you’re right about all the things that you said. And weaponization is a big piece – you know, having a softball size of HU is great, but you still have to turn it into a weapon. These estimates will vary. They’re going to probably shrink over time. But when Panetta was still secretary of defense, he was quoted publicly as saying that from the moment at which Iran had a significant quantity of fissile material, if will take them about a year to weaponize it, and then that’s an estimate that – (inaudible) – in the Israeli Atomic Energy Agency tell me is their view as well.
The thing that I would say is, again, in the spirit of being evidence-based, every nuclear weapon state, the first platform they use is an airplane because building a nuclear weapon is hard, and building a ballistic missile is hard, and then building a ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear weapon is the hardest of all because you have zero percent – you know, this has to be one hundred percent reliable. You cannot press the button, have it come up and come back down, despite Mals (ph) testing, only time in history. So the tolerances here are, you know, really, really, really tight. And so I would assume they’re going to go with a plane for a while.
And, you know, the – on the Israeli thing is I know there is talk that Obama is forcing the Israelis to then going to take military action; you’ve heard this line of reasoning emerge in the last couple of weeks. You know, if there is – people think of this as an U.S.-Iran agreement. I cannot state strongly enough this is not a U.S.-Iran agreement. This is an agreement between Iran and the international community, represented by Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain. If the international community comes to an agreement with Iran and there are international people as part of this agreement at those facilities, right, in addition to IAEA but also nationals, maybe Japanese nationals, maybe there are others who will be on the ground, I do not think Israel is going to bomb these facilities. I mean, they – obviously, you want to give them wide berth in terms of their propensity in the past to use force and to act on their own and willing to be – take the, you know, brunt of public opinion. But that’s really a lie, you know. I don’t think they’re going to cross that line.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. We have one more question up here in the front, which we’ll – I think the last one, and then I’m going to ask our speakers to offer their wrap-up thoughts.
Q: Thank you. Andrew Pierre (ph). The current discussion regarding the Islamic State and the response seems to focus on Iran as being a key player. And Iranian interests and our interests sometimes coincide, and sometimes in major ways don’t coincide. This obviously has to be in the minds of Iranian leadership and in a major way. So wondering whether – Jim, you follow Iran very closely, but Paul also – whether this – the current developments are a plus or minus in terms of reaching an agreement.
MR. WALSH: It’s a great question, and from – a ISIS question from a nuclear guy.
You know, I think it’s – I hate to say ISIS is a plus. That seems like just a wrong sentence to say. I will say, though, if it wasn’t for ISIS, would Maliki have ever left? I mean, as it was, he had to have, what, a third or a fourth of his territory taken over, and he still held on? I think ISIS what finally was the final thing that got rid of Maliki. So I don’t want to say that’s a positive thing, but I like that outcome; that made other things possible.
You know, I think the – I think it produces – as with some minor sanctions relief is also in this category – it produces secondary incentives, right? At the end of the day the nuclear deal is going to get done or not one on the merits of the nuclear deal by those folks in the negotiating room. In the back of their minds is possibly the idea, if we get this done – if we don’t get this done, it’s a freaking disaster, and we start digging – everyone starts digging a hole. And if we do get it done, well, maybe we can do a little more here and do a little on Afghanistan and do a little on some other things. So I think it’s mildly second order positive. But I think my brothers and sisters who do nuclear stuff –they’re known as jihadis, you know, the nonproliferation jihadis – they’re going to insist that the nuclear deal be able to stand on its own without regard to other foreign policy issues. That’s my guess.
MR. KIMBALL: Paul.
MR. PILLAR: Both sides in the negotiations so far, the Iranians and the P5+1 , have quite wisely in my view, tried – and they both emphasized this – we’re limiting our agenda to the nuclear issue because once one side or the other starts bringing in other issues, that leads to other demands and counterdemands on who knows what. I believe the negotiators will continue to keep that as a top priority and I salute them for that.
That said, one of the important pluses in my judgment of completing an agreement, in addition to assuring us ourselves that the Iranian nuclear program will stay peaceful, is that it starts to take us away from this enormous preoccupation with this one issue that has colored and constrained, you know, our policy on everything else insofar as it touches Iran, whether it’s Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, anything else. I will second the advance advertisement that my colleague Jim mentioned for the Iran project’s new report, which will be released – we are going to have an event at the Wilson Center day after tomorrow, which gets to some of these very issues, Andrew (sp), not only ISIS, although that’s the – you know, the threat du jour, but other regional concerns and ask the question to what extent would an agreement make a difference in being able to address some of these problems.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Thank you. And just a side note, in deference in our good colleagues at the Institute for Science and International Security, we inside the Arms Control Association are calling these guys in Iraq and Syria ETIS, the extreme terrorists in Iraq and Syria, but – (laugher) – that’s another issue.
So let me ask the three of view to quickly offer two minutes of wrap-up thoughts on our conversation this morning, any key points you would like to emphasize or re-emphasize. Paul, Jim, and Kelsey.
MR. PILLAR: All I would do is just incorporate by reference Jim’s earlier comments about the misguided nature of focusing so much on the numbers and on breakout when what we really have is a political process here. And whether the Iranians build a bomb or not is going to depend not so much on whether it’s X thousands HU or Y thousands HU that’s written under the agreement, but whether the perceptions in Iran are that Iran is part of a better circumstance for itself as well as for the rest of the world if it lives under an agreement in which an Iranian nuke is not part of that future. And they get the other benefits, of course, that they’re looking for, which is to be reaccepted as a normal participant in the community of nations.
MR. KIMBALL: Jim.
MR. WALSH: I think you’ve heard me drone on and on, and I commented on virtually every question. So I’m just going to say this is it, right? We’re down to it, two months, two months to go. Now, could it get extended another six months? God, I hope not, and I think we would all – all the sides would be politically weaker if that happens. But I think it’s – we’re looking at history right now. If it happens, I think Iran ends up in a different path, and we are talking about this in a very different way 10 and 15 years from now. And if neither – if it blows up because one or both sides just can’t cross the bridge, then we’re in for a period of real ugliness. It’s not going to go to the status quo, the pre, you know, November 23rd status quo. It’s going to sink lower, and it’s going to sink like a rock.
MR. KIMBALL: Kelsey.
MS. DAVENPORT: Well, this time I think Jim did pre-empt my comments.
MR. WALSH: Oh, I’m sorry.
MS. DAVENPORT: And put them probably far more eloquently than I did. But, I mean, I would – I would certainly agree, we need to remember that the consequences of not reaching an agreement are far worse. And in that sense, I would just remind us where we were a year ago, Iran moving much more – moving very quickly toward Prime Minister Netanyahu’s red lines on this 20 percent enriched uranium, continuing to install centrifuges, moving forward on advanced centrifuges. And so much has been accomplished in a year in terms of halting their program, rolling back key elements of it that I think the next two months really represent the best chance that we have to get towards a deal. So I would encourage policymakers to move away from the posturing and the red lines and to really think creatively about how we can get to an agreement?
MR. KIMBALL: And to end on a high note, the deal is within reach. It is now a matter of, what, two months to close off the final issues, including uranium enrichment. It’s not as hard as it looks. And to quote Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – no, I’m not going to sing it – both sides can get what they need, but they can’t get everything they want. And it’s now within the reach of the negotiators and the key political leaders.
Thank you all for being here. We’ll see you again. Let me just remind you that the Arms Control Association has lots of information about the ongoing discussions on the negotiations. We have a P5+1 in Iran nuclear talks alert that goes out. There is a signup sheet outside if you want to keep up date on all the nuances and twists and the turns. Thanks again. (Applause.)