The framework announced by Iran and the global P5+1 powers at Lausanne last week contains significant weaknesses that leading scientists warned over the weekend will be ignored “at the peril of regional security and peace,” marking the latest in what has become a string of warnings from top nuclear experts and diplomats that the agreement taking form risks dragging the United States into Middle East wars involving nuclear-armed disputants. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) - a top think tank that has been engaged by the Obama administration throughout negotiations with Iran and has even seen some of its recommendations incorporated into current proposals - published a comprehensive 13-page report assessing that the current U.S. stance on forcing Iran to come clean on its past nuclear work would badly undermine the deal and destabilize the region. The Wall Street Journal reported on the eve of talks in Lausanne, Switzerland that Washington was prepared to permit Iran to put off disclosing the full extent of its atomic research until after sanctions relief had been granted. The warnings about the potential for the deal to spark war echo those recently published by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz – the two bluntly assessed that “[r]ather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms” – as well as a blunt assessment from Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in The Washington Post. Ya’alon asserted that “the terms of the framework… make war more likely.” Another section of the ISIS report, this one involving the White House’s overarching claim of having achieved a one-year breakout time, criticized the administration for flatly failing to take into account Iran’s current stockpile of near 20% low enriched uranium. Other experts have described uranium enriched to that level as 90% of the effort needed to reach weapons-grade uranium, and the BBC had already noted last summer that “[a]t 20%, enriched uranium can be converted quickly to arm a nuclear weapon.” In the report, ISIS experts criticized the administration for assuming that transforming that portion of the stockpile into reactor fuel elements made it irrelevant to a potential Iranian drive for a nuclear weapon, tersely noting instead that “recovery of near 20 percent LEU from fresh fuel can be straightforward and the U.S. evaluation requires greater scrutiny.” The report concluded that under some scenarios the framework, if implemented as reported, would allow Iran to have a breakout time short of the window that the Obama administration has described as necessary to detect and respond to Iranian cheating.
In a step that will weaken United Nations-mandated sanctions that were enacted in response to Iran’s illicit nuclear program, the Russian government has lifted a 2010 ban on shipping an advanced air-defense system to Iran, The Wall Street Journal reported (Google link) today. The lifting of the ban also raised fears that Iran could deploy the missiles to protect its nuclear sites from an American or Israeli air strike.
The Kremlin posted a decree by President Vladimir Putin on its website Monday afternoon that formally removed the Russian ban. The move comes as world powers including the U.S. and Russia scramble to strike a final deal with Iran over the dismantlement of its nuclear program by a June 30 deadline.
Russia signed a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver S-300s to Iran in 2007. But the U.S. and Israel pushed the Kremlin to drop the deal, worrying that Tehran could use the sophisticated air-defense system to protect its nuclear facilities from an attack.
Russia relented, and in 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a Kremlin decree prohibiting the delivery of any Russian S-300 missiles to Iran. The 2010 order brought Russia in line with United Nations Security Council sanctions passed that year, which established an arms embargo on Iran in an attempt to further impede the country’s nuclear enrichment.
UN Security Council Resolution 1929, issued in 2010, clearly prohibits the “transfer to Iran of any … missiles and related systems or parts.” Putin’s decree is titled “Amendment to Executive Order on measures for implementing UN Security Council Resolution No. 1929.”
While the issue of sanctions relief in the context of Iran’s nuclear program usually refers to economic sanctions, the international sanction regime potentially undermined by Russia’s actions are aimed at reining in Iran’s related military ambitions, which have been destabilizing the Middle East. Many observers, including House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), argue that the relaxed economic sanctions that accompanied the current nuclear talks with Iran has fueled Iran’s regional ambitions. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz warned last week that further weakening sanctions will only increase Iran’s designs on the region. Despite President Barack Obama’s assurance that sanctions, once removed or scaled back, can be “snapped back” into place after Iranian violations, the process to restore sanctions “may prove unworkable.” (via TheTower.org)