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Former inspector: The good, bad and ugly from Iran Nuclear Deal

Editor’s Note: David Kay was the Chief Nuclear Weapons Inspector in Iraq for the International Atomic Energy Agency during the 1990s, leading numerous inspections following the end of the Gulf War in 1991. It was his job to determine the production capability of Iraqi nuclear weapons. After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and the U.S. military found no weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush appointed Kay to lead the Iraq Survey Group to scour the country to find them. In January 2004 Kay concluded that there had been no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the time of the U.S.’s invasion. Here is Kay’s assessment of the nuclear agreement reached this week with Iran.

The Good news:

1. That any agreement (even an agreement that is only an agreement to reach an agreement) about arrangements to limit Iran’s nuclear program could be reached between the P5+1 (United States, United Kingdom, China, France, Russia, Germany) and Iran. It’s easy to overlook how poisoned this relationship is on both sides, filled with distrust and hateful memories that have entered their collective national psyches, and considerable divisions within the countries about any such deals.

2. The limitations on centrifuges, both in number and type, are a considerable step forward. The IR-1 centrifuge is an unreliable, deficient design that Iran acquired from Pakistan. The more advanced centrifuges that Iran itself has developed are to be put in monitored storage.

The Incomplete News:

1. This is an agreement outline, not an agreement. There is really hard and difficult work to turn this into an enforceable agreement.

2. The framework is silent on any limitations of Iran’s ballistic missile program, beyond the sanctions already in place. These sanctions have raised the cost of this program, but not significantly limited its progress. North Korea is likely to continue to aid Iran in this area.

3. The R&D limits both with regard to centrifuges and other nuclear activities are at best vague (regarding centrifuge work) and in some areas (missile warheads suitable for nuclear weapons and work related to creating a successful nuclear device — almost all work critical to nuclear weapon design can easily be done on computers as well or better than actually physical testing) simply absent.

The Bad News (at least for now):

1. The framework calls for a separate “dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s Nuclear program” to monitor and approve “the supply, sale and transfer” to Iran as of now unspecified materials and technology. Why bad news? If there is any country that knows how to beat export controls it’s Iran, which has been doing exactly this for 35 years. Also the last time something like this was tried, the infamous U.N. “oil for food program” in Iraq, it led to massive corruption in Iraq and within the UN.

2. The inspection/verification task that this agreement will require is huge and really without precedent in its comprehensiveness and duration. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguard program will require a considerable expansion before it is ready for this. Even more important, and usually overlooked, is the essential step that Iran must take before this begins. Without a full, comprehensive and accurate declaration of all of its past, current and planned nuclear related activities, effective verification cannot begin. Too many people believe, partly my fault, that effective inspections means inspectors running around a country knocking on doors demanding access. That only occurs when a country refuses to make full, accurate and complete declarations, and when it does occur, you no longer have full verification.

The Wrong News:

1. Too much attention has been given to how this agreement might damage Israel. Israel, will, in fact, be a big winner. First, the U.S. is certain to be required by Congress to provide Israel even more military assistance — F22s, F35s, bunker busters, more antimissile assistance, long-range refueling capability, etc. Second, this agreement will solidify the Israeli-Saudi cooperation that has emerged over the last three years. This is really important and underreported.

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