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On Iran: Miles to Go Before We Sleep

Uploaded: Nov 26, 2013

The essential nature of a good deal is one in which both parties to it get more of what they really want, in exchange for something they want less. When I buy a new car (as in: 'new to me,' in case you've seen what I drive), it's because I value it more than the money it takes to make it mine; and conversely for the dealer. In another context, I might want to forestall an outcome that would otherwise probably occur, as if I sought an option-to-buy, at any time within a defined period. It may be useful to analyze the current Iran deal in that fashion – both parties got something they valued in taking the first, halting step in many years toward an accord that could make for a better future with fewer nukes.

It is at once significant and very preliminary: significant in that we are finally talking to this important country's leadership, after 30-odd years of air silence; and preliminary in that what we appear to have bought is 'time' to pursue the possibility of a more definitive agreement -- while such an agreement is still possible.

Okay, so what did The World (TW), at least as represented by Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany, and the US (thus, a pretty goodly chunk, all of which have their own nukes) 'get' in this case? While early information is slightly inconsistent, it appears that Iran will destroy its entire stockpile of near weapons-grade uranium, and for six months stop production of lower enriched uranium, stop construction and installation of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, and freeze construction of a new reactor that could produce plutonium, another nuclear bomb fuel. Iran also agreed to unprecedented inspections to ensure compliance.

According to several sources we all hope are accurate, Iran has about 8 tons of 5% pure uranium (think empty school bus), useable in that concentration for nuclear power and other peaceable means. They have also produced about 400 pounds (think NFL nose guard) of 20% pure material. That seems like a long way from the 90% level required for weapons, except that the purification process apparently moves faster in those upper reaches. (BTW, try saying Iranian uranium five times, fast). In essence, then, TW bought 'time,' a half-year delay in Iran's ability to realize its nuclear weapon agenda.

In return, Iran got the following: it received back some $5 Billion in its own oil revenues that had been frozen in foreign banks, no new economic sanctions for the six-month duration of the accord, and suspension of some sanctions: on precious metals, on Iran's auto industry and its petrochemical exports. For context, Iran's GDP is over $500 Billion/year. So they bought 'stuff.' Crucially, the Parties also agreed to work during those 6 months on a long-term agreement to further redirect the former Persia's nuclear ambitions.
So this preliminary pact is not earth-shattering, in the way an atomic bomb explosion might fracture the earth around it. But to say it's either 'nothing' or 'too much' is wrong, methinks. We're in the novel realm of 'so-far, so-good' with the new Iranian regime – with the prospect of achieving something better.

The agreement by itself ensures nothing permanent, but it did purchase delay by at least half-a-year, together with a better window-into that country. Such is the nature of buying options. Anyone who demands that the first deal achieve the ultimate result has never watched a child learn to walk, or a diplomat ply that trade. After three decades of inter-governmental paralysis, this is a positive first step. I also think that verifiability may be exceptionally useful in determining whether TW is relying on good information in its estimates. I have no idea whether the new insight will be 20/20, but I do know that it's better than the blindfold we've been wearing.

Finally, the interconnections elsewhere in that restive region are worth considering. Iran is a player in the conflicts and politics of other nations, including Syria where it has intervened on the side of the Assad regime. An active diplomatic relationship with that country, albeit typically aligned against current US interests, may open other doors down the road. As the saying goes, running the first mile of a marathon is no guarantee that you will overcome its every obstacle, but not running it ensures that you won't.

Israel (itself a nuclear power) has also objected, predictably, since it is their territory that would almost certainly be bombed if a future regional balance of terror failed. Their preference would be for all sanctions to remain in-place, and that Iran retain its status as an international pariah. Mr. Netanyahu hinted darkly that his military still has its own option of unilateral action to end the Iranian nuclear threat.

It seems to me, though, that this agreement delays that potential day-of-reckoning, as well, and also renders it ultimately less probable in case a longer deal can be reached. With a Great Powers process underway, Israel would risk too much global opprobrium if it attacked its enemy now. And what if – IF – this agreement leads to a better, longer term deal? Nobody, but NObody has more to gain if this initiative works. I believe that Israel's objection has more to do with its present seat on-the-bench in this exchange. Nor does this initiative significantly impact the prospect of a US-brokered deal with the Palestinians: the chance of that was nil, and has gotten no worse.

TW has much to fear from a unilateral Israeli strike. War is unpredictable, and it is not at all clear that any hot conflict could be contained to its partisans. It is more likely that various allies would be swept into the fray – and that doesn't even count the high probability that unforeseeable, unprepared-for events could ignite a much wider war. That scenario is now objectively less likely to occur.

So this is neither an ultimate destination nor a ditch. We do have the metaphorical miles to go before we reap a lasting, peaceful reward -- but in the interim, but the world is a little bit safer today.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by jake, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 26, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Iranians are rational and have determined that the scheme of pushing the West re the nuclear issue has run its course and the price has become too high. The hard line position that they have had over the years has been useful to satisfy their internal hard liners and create a sense of "us vs them" to unite the country. But price has become too high and the new generation of Iranians want change. So it is time to change course. They have claimed that they do not have a nuclear bomb ambition. It is a plausible position since the countries that do have it find it expensive and practically useless! So why not make the change and serve the best interest of their country? Israel in reality is more concerned about conventional threat from Arab radicals than a nuclear threat from Iran, however, the issue has served them well in getting the West to provide them with assistance. The Arab Spring practically wiped out any existential threat to Israel from the Arabs; they are too busy killing each other. So the facts on the ground seem to point to a potential situation where almost everyone will get what they want. It will not happen overnight but may happen faster than many expect.

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 27, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Tom, you are weak. "But in the interim, the world is a little bit safer today." Believe your own BS if you want. Iran hates the west and Israel. Your weak president and his lackey Kerry are quite the clowns. The Israelis have survived all these years by their wits and determination to survive. They know all to well about Iran's state sponsored terrorism. Hell, the Israelis warned this pathetic administration about this so-called deal. Did Obama listen? Nope. Yeah, so much for having your friend's back.

The thing is, Mr. Cushing, you will settle for anything that comes out of Obama's mouth. If you really feel safer, trek to Israel and ask those folks how they feel about Iran. More to the point, any confrontation between Iran and Israel would drawl the U.S. into a war of unimaginable horror. The sanctions against Iran were working to the point where they wanted to talk. The U.S, along with the rest of the nations participating in these talks, should have flat out refused any deal until Iran completely stopped processing nuclear material. Iran should have been brought down to it's knees.

You don't deal with bullies by compromising.

Posted by Dickita P, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 28, 2013 at 12:44 am

Bix: Now that you're talking about "bullies", let's spend four seconds considering your beloved Tough Guy Israel's treatment of Palestinians, or how the actions of the U.S. versus the Iranians might look from any other perspective aside your own. Never mind, that's just opening up an endless ramming of one's head against the limitations of a "might makes right" mindset.

Before we get to that, maybe you should look into the realities of what economic sanctions look like. Harpers recently dug into how devastating three decades of isolation and arbitrary punitive measures have been on the Iranian people, a reading of which would surely let you see that the "get tough" approach ran its course and became full-fledged cruelty long ago.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 28, 2013 at 8:18 am

@Bix: I understand your argument, but think that jake has a better handle on the current dynamics of the Middle East. I would also note a few other things: first, that N Korea was/is quite willing to beggar its population to achieve its nuclear ambitions, regardless of any economic pressure the world applied. I don't feel safer for that.

Second, by most accounts these sanctions have been a good delay tactic whose use was insufficient to completely forestall Iran's weapons program. And, as Dickita points out, they've inflicted suffering on ther Iranian population, but they have not fomented revolt. So when, in a year or [you pick the time], Iran Does achieve a weapon, what then? We all know what Israel did in Iraq, and Iran learned that lesson by making its facilities essentially impregnable. Are you eager to commit another few $trillion to yet another south Asian land war? Would that make you feel safer?

Third, I understand that this suits a superficial narrative about a "weak" President, but what about Putin -- is he "weak," too? Are all six great powers "weak?" I have frankly been pleasantly surprised by what Kerry has achieved as Secretary of State. He/we recognized an opportunity in the regime change in Iran, away from the hardliners, and have made something of it. Time will tell how much it's worth.

Finally, most sanctions remain in-place, and they can all be reinstated if this doesn't work. As indicated, the world bought time. Any conclusions are preliminary, but this is a path worth taking -- I do feel 'a little safer' for that.

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 28, 2013 at 9:30 am

Okay Dickita, lets talk about the Palestinians. Since June 2007 Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip, after it won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and then defeated the Fatah political organization in a series of violent clashes. Israel, the United States, Canada, the European Union, and Japan classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. Iran, on the other hand does not. Hamas operates out of the Palestinian territories.

So, isreal is a bully for defending herself? And your wording of "Tough guy" is in place of "self defense" I take it? Man, you are one warped torpedo. My guess is that if you hit me, I'm not supposed to hit you back? Life does not work that way.

Now, as far as economic sanctions go, it brought Iran to the table, did it not? The problem is that the US and other countries did not go far enough in stopping this terrorist regime. Oh, I'm sorry, I meant peaceful law abiding country. You are correct in the horrible realities that economic sanctions have rained down on the Iranian people. But let me ask you this: Would you rather impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran or go to war? I'll take the former.

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 28, 2013 at 9:56 am

Tom, China can and would Keep North Korea in check. So, who would keep Iran in check? You think the Russians, Germans, French and Canadians would go to war with Iran? Nope. Iran wants to be a nuclear power, plain and simple. They hate us and Israel. This, as you put it, "Buys time" argument is weak. Those other countries are not weak Tom, they have a much different agenda then does the US and Israel. Seriously, they do. If you think for one second that Putin is doing this to stop Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon, I believe you are gravely mistaken. As for the other countries, it's all about oil.

And since you brought up Obama and Kerry. Yes, they are weak. They should have increased economic sanctions and brought Iran to her knees. Let put it to you this way.

When our people were taken hostage during Iran's revolution, some Russians were taken hostage too. You know what the Russians did? They took an Iranian hostage, cut him to pieces, threw the remains in a box and sent it to Iran. Days later, the Russians released all Russin (Soviets back then) personnel.

Do I have to bring up Reagan too? The Iranians didn't fear Carter. The Iranians feared Reagan. We got our peeps back when Reagan when Reagan roared.

LOL! I was just thinking that Dickita probably thinks Reagan was a bully too!

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 28, 2013 at 10:33 am

Bix: do you have a --reliable-- link to your chopped-up hostage claim? I can find no record of it after a cursory search, and snopes.com has never even heard of it. I have always understood it to be one of those urban legends that is such a great story among cowboy diplomats that nobody wants any facts to get in the way of it.

Otherwise, it's standard-issue war-mongering to demonize the opposition. But Web Link .

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm

LOL! You fell for the trap Tom; or more importantly, instead of paying attention to what I said, you focused on a story that is fiction. I put that in there because I knew you would ignore the real issues I brought up and insult me. You are correct, there is no evidence the Russians sent Iranian body parts back to Iran.

See how easily you were mislead? You spent time, hopefully not a lot of time, looking for something that wasn't true. It's all about deception my friend. And that is exactly what the Iranians want. Time. Your weak administration back their in Washington just gave them what they wanted.

Learn a little about the region. Learn a little about some really bad people and groups that have come from that part of the world: Arafat, Sadam, Gaddafi, Hezbollah, Hammas... The list goes on and on. Do you honestly believe you can come to terms with a regime that literally hates you?

Now, what has any of what I just said have to do with standard issue war mongering... Cowboy?

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 28, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Here is what Iran just announced Tommy (Story from the Washington Free Beacon)

A top Iranian military leader announced late Tuesday that Iran has developed ?indigenous? ballistic missile technology, which could eventually allow it to fire a nuclear payload over great distances.

Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the lieutenant commander of Iran?s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), made the critical weapons announcement just days after Iran and the West signed a deal aimed at curbing the country?s nuclear activities.

Gee Tom, wasn't I just talking about not trusting these folks? I wonder how Kerry feels now! That liberal mindset of yours is just a tad too trusting.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 8:34 am

Ah, so you couldn't find it, either. Well, someone who believes 'the best defense is a good offense' Would like the Israeli position in this matter.

Your whole approach, however, completely misapprehends why it's important to negotiate with Iran. It's NOT because we think they've turned into cuddly kittens, but precisely because they haven't. You've perhaps heard the saying: Keep your friends close -- and your enemies closer? That applies here. This also is clearly Not about trust; the verifiability portion is critical, and has already begun. You also haven't answered the most critical Q -- what do you -- and more crucially the Israelis -- do when, within a year, the Iranians complete their first atomic bomb, more sanctions or not?

Let me give you an example: in the 1970s, Egypt had just unsuccessfully attacked Israel, after which Israel occupied the Egyptian Sinai. Sworn enemies, they were preparing for war again when Sadat and Begin were called to Camp David. Completely intractable Positions, but compatible Interests were found: Egypt wanted the land back as a matter of national pride and sovereignty; Israel cared little for the territory, except as a buffer and early warning of future Egyptian tank attack. The Camp David Accords -- still in effect today -- called for Israeli withdrawal, on condition that the Sinai remain demilitarized by Egypt. They still hate AND distrust each other, AND they haven't gone to war in forty years.

THAT's why you talk, and make deals that make sense -- like this one. The book "Getting to Yes" would be a good thing for you to read, in terms of opening your eyes to the fact that negotiation doesn't imply weakness.

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 8:55 am

Egypt and Israel were not negotiating over nukes, we're they Tom? They were negating over territory; and only because Egypt got her ass kicked. There has been peace between the two only because of how strong Israel is militarily.

Here, now I know it's hard for you to face the truth, but this is a clip I copied from the Jeruselem Post:

Two other experts on the call, Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, both expressed similar skepticism over Iran?s intentions in the coming six months.

Fogel, a Canadian, called on his government to maintain the sanctions on Iran.

?The P5+1 [the negotiating countries] have confused inducements with incentives,? Fogel said. ?The sanctions regime was an incentive for Iran to negotiate.?

Dubowitz said that ?the Geneva agreement?s real flaw is, it fails to confront Iran?s weaponization research,? and added that THE WORLD POWERS HAD PUT FAR TOO MUCH TRUST IN IRAN'S ABILITY TO IMPLEMENT ALL CONDITIONS AND POLICE ITSELF.

?Tehran surrendered little in terms of the nuclear, and gained much economically.

It?s all ?trust,? and literally next to no ?verify,?? he said.

And further... You said, "That's why you talk and make deals that make sense." This deal doesn't make sense. I just gave you a few FACTS. You don't want to hear facts, you just want to hear what makes you feel good. Looks like Obama and Kerry did just that.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 9:21 am

With due respect, those aren't 'facts,' they are 'opinions.' And they simply restate the Israeli party line. They stand for the proposition that two other hard-liners, plus Mr. Netanyahu, agree with you. FWIW, I never said it was irrational, just mistaken.

The point about territory being somehow different from nukes is unexplained in your note, for good reason -- it's a physical distinction, without a relevant difference. The point was, and is, that intractable foes can find trade-able exchanges by looking behind the contradictory positions and focusing on the interests that animate those positions -- exchanges that leave them both better-off. A start on that process has been made, here.

And, I would note that the question of what to do when the sanctions -- any sanctions -- fail to keep Iran from achieving its bomb within the next year ... remains unaddressed, again. I do not think that's an oversight.

Posted by bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 10:10 am

LOL! You are not talking to a jury here counselor. Stop attempting to muddy the waters with expository writing and ask me to read a book on the art of negotiation. You present all fluff and no substance.

Also, alas once again, Egypt is not Iran. Stop attempting to equate the two. It doesn't work. Egypt sat down with Israel because it got it's ads kicked. Israel became even stronger and THAT is why there is peace between them today.

I just gave you a fact about middle development by Iran, which of course you chose to ignore. Typical courtroom setting. Only problem is your bs doesn't work on me.

Posted by bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 10:13 am

Sorry, "missle" development.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Danville,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 12:25 pm

The Iranians do respect power. But, they also seem to be seeking the respect that they believe a country of its size and history in the region deserves.

They are also understandably mistrusting, even these many years later, of a country that overthrew its democratically elected leader in 1953.

The solution to minimizing a nuclear weapons future for Iran will not be an easy or simplistic one; but, it will surely be a gradual one that will necessarily involve much diplomacy, rather than ultimatums.

Posted by Derek, a resident of Danville,
on Nov 29, 2013 at 4:43 pm

All the above arguing, along with our very, very weak excuse for journalists, obfuscates a far more dire concern. 30% of Iranian arable land has been overtaken by sand dunes. And ground water reserves, even the deepest aquifers, are at historical lows. This should be a primary concern, and it could trigger many other problems including all-out wars between the have's and have not's. Ditto for India and it's neighbors, China, et al.

The neocon chickenhawks will never get past their desire for more middle east wars, and it is no coincidence that not one of these cowardly scum has ever spent a minute of active duty in his life. The day that the Cheneys, Wolfowitz's, Perles, Feiths, Cambones, Boltons, Hannity's, and Krystal's of the world are willing to enlist, maybe their mouth foaming blather will convince a few others to follow them into the next fiasco.

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Dec 3, 2013 at 12:12 am

@>Derek. Yeah, right along with Kennedy (Vietnam), McNamara (Vietnam), Johnson (Vietnam), Clinton (Eastern Europe). Name the other side too. Yeah, you know so much.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Danville,
on Dec 4, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Bix -- Didn't you just list several veterans (all except for Clinton)? I think you are making Derek's point.

Posted by Bix, a resident of Walnut Creek,
on Dec 18, 2013 at 8:54 pm

@Dave > Kennedy, MacNamara and Clinton were Democrats. I was equating them with the neocon chicken hawks that Derek brought to light.

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