If the details of the Iranian nuclear agreement and the rhetoric surrounding it seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. In a sky with a million points of light, it’s difficult to know where to look. The most basic question is the best place to start. Will this deal allow Iran to construct a nuclear weapon? Yes. But how? What components of the deal are most likely to allow Iran the means to build a nuclear weapon?
For me, the two components of the nuclear agreement most likely to allow Iran the capacity and time to build a nuclear weapon are the following:
- The reduction of centrifuges to approximately 6,000.
- The delayed IAEA inspections.
As part of the nuclear agreement, Iran has conceded to the reduction of its nuclear centrifuges by two thirds, leaving it with roughly 6,000 centrifuges. With 6,000 centrifuges, it would take Iran between ten months to one year to build a nuclear weapon, so say the experts.
Proponents of the agreement argue that with regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran won’t be able to use the centrifuges to build a bomb.
Here’s where the IAEA inspections come into play. Instead of anytime, anywhere inspections by the IAEA on undeclared nuclear sites, Iran demanded delayed inspections. The United States conceded. This means that for the IAEA to inspect an undeclared Iranian nuclear site under suspicion of rule-breaking, a series of hurdles must first be jumped.
At minimum, the Iran nuclear deal allows the Islamic nation a 24-day buffer prior to the inspection of any undeclared nuclear site. However, according to The Wall Street Journal, that time could be stretched out to several months, given provisional flexibility in the agreement.
Proponents of the deal argue that it would be virtually impossible to clean up a nuclear site in just 24 days, but others disagree.
“…former International Atomic Energy Agency deputy director general Olli Heinonen said that while 24 days isn’t enough time to erase a large facility, such as a uranium-processing site, he was concerned about smaller facilities that could be put to use in the later stages of weapons development. If someone already has the nuclear components, a smaller site will do just fine.”
Politico then quoted Heinonen:
“I can say that based on my past experience, that you can sanitize this place [a small site] in two weeks without any trouble…”
Additionally, according to The New York Times:
“David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former weapons inspector in Iraq…said that three weeks might be ample time for the Iranians to dispose of any evidence of prohibited nuclear work. Among the possibilities, he said, were experiments with high explosives that could be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, or the construction of a small plant to make centrifuges.“
The New York Times quoted Albright:
“They are practiced at cheating. You can’t count on them to make a mistake.”
Moreover, the burden of proof rests on the IAEA.
According to Bipartisan Policy:
“If the IAEA already had absolute knowledge of what was going on at these facilities, the inspections would not be needed. This process, however, requires the IAEA to give Iran its evidence for wanting to inspect undeclared facilities in order to gain access to them. But it is precisely to gain such evidence in the first place that inspectors would be seeking access. This provision requires inspectors to have more than suspicions with which to convince Iran to grant them access, rather than placing the burden on Iran to prove that it is not conducting illicit nuclear activities.”
Bipartisan Policy also notes:
“Iran could seek to build an enrichment program that is entirely parallel to and separate from its monitored facilities. It has a long history of skirting export controls to buy components for its nuclear equipment on the international black market.”
The IAEA must first suspect something is amiss, which would require information from intelligence agencies. After that, it must then ask Iran for permission, supplying ample evidence for their suspicion. After that, Iran could run out the clock for months, or a minimum of 24 days. However, as David Albright noted, Iran is a practiced cheater, and they could very well build entirely separate nuclear development sites with material bought on the black market.
Given this, and given the fact that we will shortly be lifting economic sanctions, allowing at least $100 billion to go to Iran, the wiggle room for nuclear weapon constriction is massive.
- Iran cheats
- The IAEA must first have reasonable suspicion before even asking for an inspection
- Iran has 24 days at minimum to hide non-nuclear evidence
- Iran can potentially build entirely new, parallel development sites
- The $100 billion in sanctions relief can only advance these possibilities
Considering Iran’s history, and our own history with failed nuclear agreements (North Korea), it’s not unreasonable to believe intelligence agencies wouldn’t detect parallel nuclear sites in time, prompting the suspicions of the IAEA in the first place. It’s not unreasonable to believe that the IAEA would be severely delayed en route to inspection. It’s not unreasonable to believe that Iran may even create deliberate false scares to take IAEA focus off of actual illicit programs.
This is a deal on a tight-wire. Many moving parts must operate with absolute precision, or Iran will successfully develop a nuclear weapon. Is that risk worth taking? Unequivocally, no.