As I See It

An Iran deal: How hard can it be?

Updated: 2014-02-09T01:01:46Z

By Matt Johnson

Special to The Star

The Obama administration has rightly called the P5+1 interim nuclear deal a diplomatic breakthrough — one that revived a seemingly irrevocable channel of communication and put the United States on the right course with Iran. There was finally a crack in the stern, defiant Iranian countenance — and a glint of optimism.

But there’s a pesky word hovering over all this progress — call it the specter of broken deals past. The word is “interim.”

The president’s 2014 State of the Union address was accompanied by the usual torrent of criticism, praise, and analysis. But I’ve yet to see much coverage of the president’s silliest comment: “If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.”

This is like saying, “Why can't we talk to North Korea? We negotiate with China all the time, and they’re much more powerful!”

After countless foiled deals, lies and contradictory statements, Iran’s nuclear program has proven to be among the most intractable situations in modern history. And as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so clearly demonstrates, the relative “power” of your adversary doesn’t determine the ease with which it can be dealt.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, when he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2006, boasted of his success in fooling the West to “finish Isfahan” (a facility where yellowcake is converted to uranium hexafluoride). He also called the Geneva agreement, “the surrender of the superpowers to the great Iranian nation.” To some extent, this is merely political bluster — but it’s worth noting.

A key provision in the interim agreement is a mandate for Iran to dilute half of its uranium from 20 percent to 5 percent enrichment. But Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s new lead negotiator, has a reminder for the West, “We can return again to 20 percent enrichment in less than one day.”

This stuff can’t be unlearned.

Iran is also required to stop researching and developing more advanced centrifuges. However, according to a recent report by David Albright and Paulina Izewicz, Iran has proven itself willing and able to conceal its R&D program. Furthermore, Iranian officials have admitted that they’re already working on more advanced centrifuges, so these will have to be decommissioned.

The sheer size of Iran — 636,400 square miles — makes this a mammoth undertaking. By comparison, Iraq — which wasn’t exactly a treat for the U.N. inspectorate — is 168,754 square miles.

Don’t trivialize these things, Mr. President. Reality might make you pay for it.

Matt Johnson is a journalism student at the University of Kansas who is interning this semester on the editorial desk at The Kansas City Star.

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