Hours after agreement on a pact that President Obama said "halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program," significant disagreements have surfaced between American and Iranian officials on major aspects of the deal.
The major difference concerns Iran's so-called "right" to enrich uranium. The Joint Plan of Action agreement on Iran's nuclear program agreed to between major powers and Iran over the weekend says in the preamble that "a final agreement will involve a mutually defined enrichment program."
Iran says this means the United States and its allies have recognized an Iranian right to enrich uranium. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said yesterday that "in the present agreement, it has been emphasized at two different points that there will be no solution without [the existence of] a nuclear enrichment program inside Iran."
The United States disagrees. Secretary of State John Kerry said: "The first step, let me be clear, does not say that Iran has a right to enrich uranium."
Kerry also said in separate statements Sunday, "There is no inherent right to enrich" and "We do not recognize a right to enrich."
Russia agrees with Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said after the Geneva deal that that the world recognizes Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, including the right for enrichment.
There also are disagreements on a provision to halt activities at the heavy-water reactor in Arak, which is under construction and will be a source of plutonium. Concerning this reactor, the Joint Plan of Action says Iran "will not make any further advances of its activities."
There is major disagreement on this provision.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry said the agreement will allow Iran to continue its activities at Arak. Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads Iran's nuclear energy agency, said Sunday that "the activities of Arak heavy water reactor, 5 percent enrichment of uranium, research and development as well as discovery and extraction, will continue in Iran."
U.S. officials take another view. President Obama said in a statement Sunday night, "Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor."
A White House fact sheet was less definitive on this point and says the agreement calls for Arak not to be activated over the next six months, that it cannot be fueled, and places other restrictions on this reactor. Secretary Kerry has used the language of the White House fact sheet and said on Saturday that "Iran will not commission or fuel the Arak reactor."
None of the above U.S. provisions and claims about Arak are in the text of the agreement. Moreover, U.S. demands that the Arak reactor not be commissioned or fueled over the next six months are meaningless since this reactor is at least a year away from start-up.
There are other significant differences.
Secretary of State Kerry said late Saturday night the agreement "actually rolls back the [Iranian nuclear] program from where it is today, enlarges the breakout time, which would not have occurred unless this agreement existed. It will make our partners in the region safer. It will make our ally Israel safer."
The agreement will at best freeze Iran's nuclear weapons program in place and slow its progress. The trouble is, Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear weapon are already fairly well advanced. Iran will retain its large reactor-grade uranium stockpile that can be converted into weapons-grade nuclear fuel for one bomb in about two months. Experts believe Iran currently has enough reactor-grade uranium to make from three to eight nuclear weapons if this uranium was further enriched to weapons grade.
Obama officials are claiming that a provision that Iran stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium and reduce its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium means it will take Tehran much longer to produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
This is not true. Studies by the American Enterprise Institute, the Institute for Science and International Security, and the Nuclear Proliferation Education Center indicate that it would take Iran only three to four weeks longer using 20 percent enriched uranium to make weapons-grade fuel than using reactor-grade uranium.
For its part, the Iranian Foreign Ministry insists Iran will continue research and development in its nuclear program.
The public disagreement between the United States and Iran over the right to enrich and the Arak reactor is puzzling and troubling. These discrepancies may make it very difficult to enact this agreement and to negotiate future agreements.
More importantly, such stark disagreements — especially U.S. claims that go against the actual text — suggest this agreement was rammed through for political reasons to boost President Obama at home before it was ready.
Israel and Saudi Arabia were strongly opposed to the Geneva talks before the deal was announced and will be more alarmed as they learn that U.S. officials have made exaggerated claims about the agreement and Iranian leaders see the pact as having little effect on its nuclear program.
Given that Iranian uranium enrichment will continue, Iran will not give up its enriched uranium stockpile, and Iran intends to continue work on the dangerous Arak heavy-water reactor, Secretary Kerry's claim that this agreement makes the Middle East safer is dubious at best.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently Chief Analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media's global intelligence and forecasting service. Click HERE to read LIGNET's latest analysis.
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