Why a Lasting Deal With Iran May Not Happen

Momentum in Washington for a new round of sanctions imperils diplomacy between Iran and the U.S. And things won't get any easier when the two sides resume talks over a nuclear deal.

  • Share
  • Read Later

Like TIME on Facebook for more breaking news and current events from around the globe!

Thierry Chesnot / Getty Images

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Minister William Hague, Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh after a joint press conference in Paris, Jan. 12, 2014.

Now for the hard part.

The interim pact on Iran’s nuclear program, finally sealed on Sunday by Tehran and six major powers led by the United States, takes effect on Jan. 20. At that point, Iran will freeze elements of its controversial atomic program, and Washington will make preparations to release some of the billions in Iranian oil revenues frozen in order to coerce Tehran to the bargaining table. “I think this is an important step,” says Olli Heinonen, former deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body charged with enforcing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. “It is,” Heinonen cautions, “a small step.”

The celebrations that greeted announcement of the agreement on Nov. 24, analysts say, was much less about the content of the document than about Iranian and American diplomats sharing something besides doleful expressions of regret over the state of relations over the last 34 years. The pact does, however, at least pause Iran’s progress toward assembling the elements of a possible nuclear weapon. Tehran says it does not want nuclear weapons; world powers say they need assurances Iran cannot develop the bombs. The next stage of negotiations is aimed at a comprehensive agreement that satisfies both sides without either losing face.

No one is optimistic it can be achieved. President Obama last month put the odds of a final agreement at 50-50. Iran’s chief negotiator isn’t even that optimistic. “I say it’s even less,” deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi told Iranian state television on Sunday. And that was before Congress lurched toward a veto-proof majority on legislation that could blow the whole process to smithereens. Hardliners on both sides have called the rapprochement between Washington and Tehran an exercise in naivete, but some conservatives in Iran actually offered a measure of praise for the interim accord. That’s apt to reinforce the conviction on Capitol Hill that the Islamic Republic is getting off too easily and - whatever the fate of the looming sanctions legislation – further complicate a diplomatic process already tangled in deep-seated distrust on both sides.    

The main points of contention inside the negotiations:

1. Washington wants to permanently limit how much uranium Iran enriches and the level of purity. The higher the purity, the more dangerous – 90 percent is weapons-grade. Under the interim agreement, Tehran will limit itself to 5 percent purity, the level used to generate electricity. But as Aragchi pointed out, Tehran has given up no facilities or capabilities: “We can return to the previous situation within a day,” he said.

2. The heavy-water reactor under construction in the city of Arak. When it starts up, the reactor will produce plutonium, which like weapons-grade uranium can fuel a bomb. Under the interim pact, Iran will continue building the plant but vows not to install nuclear equipment – acknowledging fears that once it’s actually operating the reactor becomes essentially too dangerous to be taken out in an air strike. Iran says Arak will produce isotopes for nuclear medicine. Experts say its substantial size makes more sense in the context of a weapons program. “Could the reactor Iran is constructing at Arak actually be used to produce isotopes for peaceful purposes?” former State Department non-proliferation chief Robert J. Einhorn once asked in an article. “Yes it could. A 12-inch hunting knife also could be used to spread jam on your toast in the morning.”

3. Perhaps most difficult is the question of whether Iran has actively pursued a nuclear bomb. The interim agreement “provides very little insight into the military aspects,” says Heinonen, addressing reporters in a conference call Tuesday. U.N. inspectors have found troubling evidence of an Iranian military program in the past. But prying more information out of Tehran will be extremely difficult, analysts say, given how adamantly its theocratic government has refused U.N. requests to inspect sites where they suspect research on nuclear weapons was performed, such as the Parchin military base. The matter will be taken up in the new talks. And if Iran is as determined to save face as Washington is to get to the bottom of the issue, the deadlock could come here.

How long will the negotiations toward a final agreement take? The interim pact calls for six months, but can be extended to a year, the time Araghchi and others call far more likely. But further extensions may also be possible. Critics of the Geneva talks, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warn that the stopgap agreement may well become the permanent arrangement – one that does little to roll back Iran’s capabilities, and is, as Araghchi boasted, easily reversed.

“There’s almost a dynamic of almost endless interim deals which has been worked into the interim deal itself, which is in fact a cause for concern,” says Emily B. Landau, a non-proliferation specialist at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “And everybody knows this comprehensive deal is going to be a 100 times more difficult to reach than the interim deal.”

Skepticism also runs deep in Congress, where majorities in both houses favor imposing tough new sanctions. Though some Senate Democrats say their support for the measure is meant to strengthen Obama’s bargaining position, and wouldn’t actually be backed by a vote unless the talks falter, it’s not at all clear that’s the signal the administration wants to send. Obama argues that punishing Iran during negotiations is irresponsible.

Yet even a former Obama adviser on Iran has suggested that more sanctions may well be inevitable. Speaking as the interim talks were getting under way, Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for weapons of mass destruction during Obama’s first term, told reporters: “I fear that one of the reasons why these negotiations will not proceed to a comprehensive agreement is that the Supreme Leader may very well miscalculate and believe Iran is in a stronger position than it really is, and it may be necessary for the United States and its allies to proceed with additional sanctions before he recognizes the need to make any really significant concessions.”

Heinonen, the former IAEA deputy chief, said U.N. inspectors will move quickly after Jan. 20, and report monthly on the state of Iranian compliance with the interim agreement, which will be judged by Washington and its negotiating partners, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. But he’s among those who cannot imagine a comprehensive agreement coming in as little as six months.

“It was extremely difficult to reach this point,” he says, “and these [elements in the interim accord] were the easy questions.”

41 comments
GeraldMucci
GeraldMucci

It is pure naivete to believe any productive diplomacy and negotiation can take place with nations whose prevailing ideology promotes lying and deception, aka "taqiyya" in Islamic lingo.  We are being fools and future history will confirm this.

EarthView
EarthView

Mr. Vick is wrong in EVERY point that he makes in this article.

1. Washington may wants to permanently limit the level of uranium enrichment in Iran, but Iran will never agree to such an arrangement. As the interim deal says, after a certain number of years, Iran will be treated just like any other signatory of NPT.

2. As for the heavy-water reactor that Iran is building, the plutonium in it cannot be used for a bomb. There are technical reasons that will prevent such a possibility as the head of the Iranian nuclear program has explained.

3.  As for the question of whether Iran has actively pursued a nuclear bomb, who cares? All the speculations about such actions relate to event more than 10 years ago. There is absolutely no concrete evidence, just conjecture and speculation. And, there is no possible way to convince conspiracy theorists like Heinonen. So, I won't even bother. Can anyone convince conspiracy theorists that 9/11 was not an inside job?

Now, how about working to transition the interim deal to a permanent agreement instead of all this nay saying?

mehallem
mehallem

Karl Vick is most likely another stooge of the Israeli regime and warmongers like Netanyahou whose existence is geared with starting wars and creating crisis in the middle east ....

Danaa
Danaa

U.S. is controlled by a little illegal country called israel. almost all politicians in it are controlled by AIPAC. "The israel's leash on united states". that says it all.

None of these coward us politicians are talking about the israeli illegal nuclear activities. If Lincoln or Washington were alive, they would all be spat on and fired. shame on this Menendez guy out of New Jersey. what a idiot and a traitor.

America is supposed to be the land of the free while we are all hostages taken by this idiot Natanyahou and his bunch.

travis1
travis1

Apparently, the goal of Iranian research and development has been to create safe, clean and affordable energy systems, not nuclear weapons. If so, it is no wonder why the oil cartel has been working so hard to suppress their effort by deeming Iran a terroist nation; http://www.focusonrecovery.net/energy.html


boulderfinfan
boulderfinfan

of course a Zionist like Vick wouldn't want a deal with Iran. Then they would actually have to make a deal with Palestinians because they lose their boogeymen in Iran

JohnRintala
JohnRintala

"The pact does, however, at least pause Iran’s progress toward assembling the elements of a possible nuclear weapon."


Tortured language. Not assembling a nuclear weapon. Not even assembling the elements of a nuclear weapon. No, not even  PROGRESS toward assembling the ELEMENTS of a nuclear weapon, but a POSSIBLE nuclear weapon.


Why doesn't Time just admit that the whole "threat" of an Iranian bomb is just  a fraudulent claim by those who simply hate Iran for no good reason, except that it has an independent foreign policy that doesn't please Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh.

Oswaldo Mesias Villacres
Oswaldo Mesias Villacres

Because Iran just does not want a deal. It, same as all countries, wants to get its way. In this case, the obliteration of Israel.

Pesbukers
Pesbukers

Dave Buse wadaw wadaw wadaw.... Kang Dave Buse wkwkwk Amir RA Se sepi malam tanpa rembulan se hening Lautan tanpa gelombang Begitu pula aku Terasa sepi tanpa komentar kamu.....hehehe Christophe Cocqueel yaaah Eyang Christophe Cocqueel off line mulu nich...... Bob Millar Seneng dweh kalo ada Eyang Bob Millar ntar Komen lagi eaaaaa hehehe.... Harrison Joshua Cande Tanpa Comment mu Aku Galauuuu

Amir RA
Amir RA

That's a complicated subject and nobody can guess about the final result. but the experience has proved that war and sanctions are not the best solutions.

Christophe Cocqueel
Christophe Cocqueel

Because to make a deal, you need to give something back. But USA and Israël don't have anything to offer to Iran but threats and fear.

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

American Food For Thought: "So, you are a genius, but people are jealous. We will learn from you and gain from you but we won't acknowledge you, but try to ruin your life opportunities. Oh wait, this makes America look bad? Uh, no apologies, but we'll give you credit eventually. We just won't tell you when. Oh, and none of the good things you do deserve recognition, but all of the bad things do." If this happened to you would you stay an American, or gift your genius to another country? Seriously. Not a joke.

Dave Buse
Dave Buse

America has wanted control of Iran since the 50's when the CIA used Operation Ajax and overthrew the govt and put their our puppet in control, They have hated us ever since. We keep coming up with excuses to sanction them and are dying to just take it over with force. Oh, Iran is one of three counties left that doesn't have a Rothschild controlled central bank, I don't remember the third, but Syria is the other one, and look what's going on there....... the US goes to war for resources, to feed the greed of its owners. But this is time magazine, I'm sure your "journalists" already know all this...........

Karar Ali
Karar Ali

usa has thousands of nuclear weapons is usa intrested in peace

Pesbukers
Pesbukers

Ender Wiggin Dulu Saya susah tidur... Setelah baca komen dari Mas Ender Wiggin saya Jarang mandi.... wkwkwk]] Shreesh Vajpayee Tthankz ea Kang Shreesh Vajpayee udah mampir... Met Dini Hari Kang Shreesh Vajpayee Zain Khan Met Dini Hari Kang Zain Khan rajin banget comment xixixixi pizzz.... Karar Ali Tthankz ea Om Karar Ali udah mampir... Met Dini Hari Om Karar Ali Bill McDonough Dulu Saya suka makan roti.... setelah baca komen Mbah Bill McDonough Saya jadi suka makan batu.... Terima kasih Mbah Bill McDonough wkwkwkwk Trejuilo Juilo Menendenez Dulu Saya menderita kencing batu... setelah baca komen dari Om Trejuilo Juilo Menendenez Batunya saya kumpulin buat bangun Rumah.... Terima kasih Om Trejuilo Juilo Menendenez wkwkwk Katrina Montgomery Ampe jempol Keriting Oeee haha...

Ender Wiggin
Ender Wiggin

Because, Iran is not interested in peace.

Pesbukers
Pesbukers

Link nya boleh di pencet pencet ndak twuh hehehe

Shreesh Vajpayee
Shreesh Vajpayee

India should'nt play pawns in the hands of US. Persia has been our natural ally from time immmorial.

Karar Ali
Karar Ali

iran z the only country who challange usa

Bill McDonough
Bill McDonough

Cause God Forbid we should actually talk out our differences ...

Zain Khan
Zain Khan

Because I guess Iran will never compromise on its sovereignty

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

Q: If Iran is not interested in preserving the option to build nuclear weapons in the future, why wouldn't her rulers sign an agreement to dispose of the facilities clearly designed for this exact aim – when the returns on this move are so enticing? A: Because Iran wants to gain time for bridging a very specific gap in the arms development plan, for which it needs money and access to Western markets. The money isn't crucial, as there are other buyers to their oil, but being able to buy nuclear technology products is priceless. Two years from now, at the most, this treaty will be discarded and the program publicly and proudly resumed. And no politician will be blamed for being intentionally stupid, but off the record some will ask themselves, why didn't we listen, just once, more carefully to the 21st Century Cassandras from Israel.

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Be wise, and understand the times we live in. These are the last days, before Jesus returns. We must turn from sin, and Turn by Faith to Jesus Christ, who loves us, died for us, and rose again from the dead.......


....Psalm 55:21........
The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, But war was in his heart; His words were softer than oil, Yet they were drawn swords.


.Daniel 8:24-26...


24 He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people. 25 He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. He will even take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power.


Jeremiah 30:7
Alas! For that day is great, So that none is like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, But he shall be saved out of it....


...Daniel 12:1

........... And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.

somethingGreen
somethingGreen

The US's heavy handed approach in the middle east makes it difficult to approach peace rationally. Iran has every right to pursue peaceful energy programs and the US is trying to make a grand show of making their lives even more difficult.


The only countries that don't get invaded are the ones with nukes. What kind of message does this send?

EarthView
EarthView

@GeraldMucci  You have no idea what taqiyya means. Why don't you look up its definition, e.g., in Wikipedia. It only relates to lying about your faith to save your life when it is endangered because of your religion. Shiites are often threatened by Sunnis who consider them to be infidels worthy of death. So, a Shiite person can pretend to be Sunni if his life is threatened. It has nothing to do with lying in general.

Now, do you want me to name some big Christian and Jewish liars. How about Bernie Madoff? Was he a Muslim? How about Bush on Iraq or Obama when he lied about the deal that Brazil and Turkey made with Iran, if you know anything about the subject?

boulderfinfan
boulderfinfan

Yea Iran with no nukes is gonna destroy Israel and it's 300 nukes. give me a break

JohnRintala
JohnRintala

Who says?Not Iran.  Ah, AIPAC says.

earmuffs
earmuffs

I am refraining from name calling here but what the world gives back is lifting sanctions before Iran's economy completely collapses. I guess you have not been following

earmuffs
earmuffs

The third is Cuba which also supports your argument.  One has to remember that bankers make a lot of money in wars and that is why the USA is perpetually at war.

JohnRintala
JohnRintala

Of course, you are right. The ghosts of those tortured to death by SAVAK and killed by Saddam are present, but people in the US don't know they exist. All they see are the 80 or so  "hostages", none of whom suffered so much as a hangnail.
 Good thing for them that Carter's "rescue" attempt failed. Half of them might have been killed in the resulting battle.

EarthView
EarthView

How did you come up with that stupid conclusion? Iran hasn't attacked another country in 300 years. Do you want me to count the number of countries that the U.S. and Israel have attacked just in the last 50 years?

EarthView
EarthView

Who says? Iran has no nukes. So, do you want to attack Russia?

EarthView
EarthView

@YehudaElyada I see you have been brainwashed by your lunatic leader Netanyahu. Iran has no use for stupid nukes. So, you can sit on your nukes and plan genocide against other countries. Iran wants to get on with its life. It has no interest in wars like your sick leaders.

BorisIII
BorisIII

@somethingGreen I don't think any country wants to take over Iran.  Israel I thought just wants to be left alone and not have to worry about being taken over.

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@BorisIII @somethingGreen Iran`s issue with Israel is religious.  Israel is far away from Iran and a hundred times smaller, but Iran is ruled by medieval Muslim clerics.  Their religion was invented by an Arab in Arabia 1,500 years after Judaism, 650 after Jesus.  That man was obsessed with Jews (all "prophets" in the Koran), today less than 0,2% of the world population and the Jewish capital, Jerusalem (holy to Islam too, for some reason).  Later the Arabs converted the Persians.  Why don`t the Iranians go back to their original religion?  The problem, obsession with Jews and their country, would go away.