November 24, 2014 | Commentary on Iran, National Security and Defense, Nuclear Forces and Strategy

Delayed Deal on Iran Nukes Better Than Bad Deal

By the looks of it, the prospect of a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran by next Monday’s deadline doesn’t look promising — which is a good reason to start biting your nails right down to the quick.

No, it’s not that if the negotiations fail Iran will — ta-dah! — pull out an A-bomb from beneath a Persian carpet. Rather the concern is that Team Obama will cut a bad deal with the mullahs just so it can have a “peace for our time” moment.

Nothing promotes rash decision-making like a looming deadline.

For instance, a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal on Monday: “We are at a very, very difficult point in the negotiations. We believe that tough decisions will only be taken at the end, if they will be taken at all.”

Based on these comments, the concern is that it will be Washington that caves to Tehran’s demands — rather than the other way around — to rescue the diplomatic effort as the clock nears midnight in Vienna on Nov. 24.

Of course, some have long been nervous about the basic premise of the American strategy for the atomic talks. Instead of rolling back/dismantling the Iranian nuclear (weapons) program, Team Obama is willing to bank on advanced knowledge of Persian perfidy.

In other words, we’re going to trust the Iranians to abide by a deal that allows them to keep some of the trappings of a nuclear weapons program as long as we can detect a “breakout” at least a year in advance, with hopes of being able to do something about it.

While we have a top-notch intelligence team, Iran is a tough target where deceit and deception are the name of the game, placing the notion of advanced warning in the category of — shall we say diplomatically — misplaced optimism.

At the moment, the two sides seem far apart on the future of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, the easing of punitive economic sanctions on Tehran and the all-important inspection/verification regime which should be intrusive.

Also of concern is Iran’s Arak nuclear reactor, which could provide a second pathway to the bomb by producing plutonium in spent fuel rods that could be reprocessed as fissile material for a nuke.

We must also focus on Iran’s burgeoning ballistic missile program which is moving in the direction of intercontinental-range capability — yes, an ICBM.

While there is likely to be another extension to the deadline, that’s probably better than trying to bridge the current gaps that might hurt the security interests of the United States, its allies and friends.

Fortunately, Iran is in a tough state at the moment and may be looking to cut a sanction-ending deal. For instance, oil prices are dropping, which is collapsing Iran’s coffers and the hostile Islamic State is on the march in allied Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Time is probably on Iran’s side but with Tehran in this difficult position, Washington should hang tough in its nuclear negotiations, resisting the tantalizing American temptation to “close the deal.”

Getting a bad deal on this is no deal at all.

 - Dr. Peter Brookes is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in The Boston Herald