Experts Discuss Framework for a Final Iran Nuclear Agreement

On Monday March 31, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel marking the release of  Senior Fellow Robert Einhorn’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Series paper: Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement.  The event provided a forum for discussion of upcoming negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Remarks focused on the requirements of a final deal that would cover Iran’s stated needs, as well as assuage U.S. and P5+1 concerns regarding Iran’s capability to “breakout” toward a nuclear weapon. Audio of the event is available here.

Brookings Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, served as moderator of the event. Panelists included Brookings Senior Fellow Robert Einhorn, former special advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Dennis Ross, counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Frank N. von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.

In his remarks, Einhorn stressed three fundamental requirements for a potential agreement:

  1. A final agreement should provide for as much transparency surrounding Iran’s nuclear-related activities as possible, including monitoring and other confidence-building measures beyond the IAEA Additional Protocol.
  2. Iran’s timeline for nuclear breakout should be lengthened to allow the international community to intervene decisively if Iran is found in violation of agreement protocols.
  3. A deal must be accompanied by consensus among the President, the Congress, and Washington’s international partners that an attempt by Iran to violate the agreement would be met with a swift and firm international response that may include use of military force.

With the next round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 scheduled to begin April 7 in Vienna, Einhorn suggested that though both sides seem intent on reaching an agreement by the July 20th deadline they are still very far apart on key issues. He expects negotiators to work to close those gaps in Vienna, and possibly move to reinforce negotiating positions as details of the talks are made public.   

On Russia’s role in the negotiations, Dennis Ross downplayed fears that Moscow was intent on playing a spoiler role. He noted Russia’s economic stake in the talks, due to Iran’s need to import Russian nuclear fuel for its Bushehr reactor, and said that he believes negotiations over a final agreement are sufficiently insulated from the turmoil in Ukraine.

Amid discussion of Iran’s nuclear breakout capability, Frank N. von Hippel expressed his concern regarding a “sneakout” scenario, in which Iran would covertly install additional centrifuges for enrichment. He stressed the importance of limiting and monitoring Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing, and said that nuclear fuel should be provided via an international consortium to ensure adequate oversight.

Rather than providing a roadmap to agreement with Iran, the paper and accompanying event outlined key provisions for reaching an acceptable deal. Domestic political constraints and international alliances complicate negotiations – but a final deal is attainable. And, while no agreement can eliminate Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon, a good agreement can deter it from doing so.