Iran Nuclear Deal Seen as Key to Middle East Stability

On the radar: Iran and its Neighbors; Zarif on NPR; How to clinch a deal with Iran; Navy and Air Force struggling to pay for nukes; Polling Iranians; and Hypersonic missiles.

September 18, 2014 | Edited by Jacob Marx and Will Saetren

Regional perspective - A nuclear deal with Iran could create a wide range of diplomatic opportunities for the United States in the Middle East, according to a report released yesterday by the Iran Project. The report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for US Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” explores various American commitments in the Middle East and the ways in which they may be enriched by a more cooperative U.S.-Iranian relationship. The report’s signers include Amb. Pickering, Amb. Luers, Amb. Wisner, Amb. Crocker, Lt. Gen. Scowcroft, Sen. Lugar, our own Joe Cirincione and many, many more.

--”The United States is the only outside power with the interest, leverage, and capacity to play a leading role in the region. It stands to reap more benefit than any other outside power from new patterns of cooperation. It will also bear the heaviest burdens if it contributes unwittingly to further deterioration of this troubled area because it misunderstood or did not appreciate a fresh dynamic,” says the report.

--We are not “arguing that it is essential to reach agreement in order that discussions can take place with Iran on other vital regional problems. We do believe, however, that there is a strong link between settling the nuclear standoff and America’s ability to play an effective role in a rapidly changing Middle East, and that a nuclear agreement will help unlock the door to new options.” Read the full report here.

Zarif interview - “What we need to do is to put in place mechanisms to ensure that Iran would never produce nuclear weapons. We are prepared to put those mechanisms in place. If you say that Iran should abandon its enrichment program, you cannot abandon science. You cannot abandon technology. We have learned this. So the best way is to make sure that this technology is used in a transparent fashion for a peaceful program,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in an interview with NPR.

--”We've said that we don't want a nuclear bomb. We've made it clear that in our nuclear doctrine — in our defense doctrine — nuclear weapons not only do not augment our security, but in fact are detrimental to our security. We make that very clear. And there is a very sound, strategic argument,” said Zarif. Interview and transcript here.

Last best opportunity - “A deal is within reach. But time is short,” write Daryl Kimball, Kelsey Davenport and Ali Vaez for Reuters. “Defining the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program remains the most significant gap. To bridge it, negotiators must move away from extreme positions toward more realistic ones.”

--“To get to ‘yes,’ negotiators need to devise some creative trade-offs. For Iran, this would mean postponing industrial-scale uranium enrichment and extending its fuel contracts with Russia. For the United States and its partners, this would mean accepting that Iran’s uranium-enrichment program could slowly scale up over time and research-and-development activities could continue under certain restrictions and monitoring.”

--“If the uranium-enrichment standoff is not resolved, this progress will be lost. We could miss the best opportunity in more than a decade to reach a nuclear deal that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran.” Read the full story here.

Can’t find the cash? - Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, “must referee a game of thermonuclear hot potato: With the Pentagon budget tightening as existing nuclear weapons age, no one wants to pay the bill for replacing them,” writes Sydney Freedberg for Breaking Defense. “Top officials in Air Force, Navy, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense keep talking about how there is no higher priority than the nation’s nuclear deterrent.”

--“We have redirected substantial monies within our own topline toward the nuclear mission,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, “but…there’s more to be done, so we very much did pitch this.” “This,” in that last sentence, means “the idea of getting funding for nuclear modernization on top of the expected Air Force budget,” writes Freedberg.

--“At the end of the day we have to find money to pay for these things one way or another,” said Kendall in discussing discrete nuclear spending accounts. “We still need the money and it has to come from somewhere.” As Freedberg put its, “Where ‘somewhere’ is, however, still looks a lot like ‘nowhere’.” Read the full story here.

Tweet - @TylerCullis: "Opponents of nuclear agreement w/#Iran are mobilizing once more." See Peter Jenkins on new Royce/Engel House letter

Through Iranian eyes - “Few topics preoccupy Iranians more than the ongoing nuclear talks between their country and the P5+1,” writes Ariane Tabatabai in a column for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “The nuclear issue is on every single Iranian’s radar. This is not because they really care about the number of centrifuges spinning at Natanz... But the nuclear dossier has impacted every aspect of their lives.”

--”Many Iranians can’t afford basic goods. Pollution resulting from substandard gasoline is causing blood cancer and other diseases, according to Tehran city officials. Sanctions have also prevented Iran from replacing its aging aircraft and purchasing parts for them, leading to several crashes in the past few months. All these issues make sanctions and, consequently, the nuclear program into a highly emotional topic for Iranians, regardless of political affiliation.” Read the full column here.

Poll - “79 percent of Iranians surveyed said they would back a deal which even included Iranian assurances never to produce an atomic bomb,” according to new public opinion polling from University of Tehran Center for Public Opinion Research, the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland and the Program for Public Consultation. Full report here.

Long on speed, short on oversight - The Pentagon needs to justify spending billions of dollars on hypersonic offensive weapons, writes James Acton in Defense One. After a prototype exploded seconds into flight last month, “Members of Congress will undoubtedly want to know about the causes of this failure and whether a do-over is warranted. But they should also be asking tough questions about how this weapon fits into broader U.S.defense strategy.” Read the full column here.

West demands PMD assurances - “Western powers told Iran on Thursday it must step up cooperation with a U.N. watchdog's investigation into suspected atomic bomb research if it wants to get a broader nuclear deal that would ease sanctions,” reports Reuters. The warning was issued at a board meeting of the IAEA in Vienna, as chief negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 prepare to resume talks in New York after a two-month hiatus. Read the full story here.

Quick Hits:

--“Full Frontal? Verifying a Nuclear Deal with Iran,” Arms Control Wonk podcast with Jeffrey Lewis and Christopher Bidwell.

--“Why the Pentagon Should Care About Scotland's Referendum,” by Emma Ashford in Foreign Policy.


--International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting. Sept. 15-19 in Vienna.

--President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani speaking at the United Nations General Assembly. Sept. 24 in New York.

--"Nuclear Deterrence Matters," with Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, U.S. Strategic Command. Part of the Huessy Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series. 8:00-9:00am Sept. 25, at the Capitol Hill Club, 300 First St. SE, Washington. RSVP online.

--"The Regional Implications of a deal with Iran” with Ken Pollack, Farideh Farhi, John Garver, Amb. Chas Freeman, and Haleh Esfandiari. Sept. 29, 2:30pm at the Washington Marriott. Part of the NIAC Leadership Conference. Details here.

--Eric Schlosser discusses his book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, at the World Affairs Council of Northern California. Sept. 29 in San Francisco. Details here.