As Allahpundit observed, the tentative framework of a prospective agreement that would ostensibly limit Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb in exchange for total sanctions relief is progressing precisely as its critics insisted it would.
On Wednesday, Iranian officials confirmed that Tehran would begin to use its fastest, latest generation centrifuges as soon as the deal goes into effect. And why wouldn’t they? Iranian statements indicate that they believe the arrangement agreed to by the Western powers recognizes the legitimacy of Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
Also on Wednesday, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan insisted that the deal’s framework does not compel Iran to allow international inspectors to visit military sites in order to verify that Iran was holding up its end of the bargain. Even if they had, it’s hard to say whether the West would be up to the monumental task of crafting and imposing an inspections regime on Iran that would prevent or even catch cheating.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz warned that the scale of the inspections regime necessary to hold Iran to its word would be unprecedented.
When inevitable disagreements arise over the scope and intrusiveness of inspections, on what criteria are we prepared to insist and up to what point? If evidence is imperfect, who bears the burden of proof? What process will be followed to resolve the matter swiftly?
The agreement’s primary enforcement mechanism, the threat of renewed sanctions, emphasizes a broad-based asymmetry, which provides Iran permanent relief from sanctions in exchange for temporary restraints on Iranian conduct. Undertaking the “snap-back” of sanctions is unlikely to be as clear or as automatic as the phrase implies. Iran is in a position to violate the agreement by executive decision. Restoring the most effective sanctions will require coordinated international action. In countries that had reluctantly joined in previous rounds, the demands of public and commercial opinion will militate against automatic or even prompt “snap-back.” If the follow-on process does not unambiguously define the term, an attempt to reimpose sanctions risks primarily isolating America, not Iran.
“The gradual expiration of the framework agreement, beginning in a decade, will enable Iran to become a significant nuclear, industrial and military power after that time—in the scope and sophistication of its nuclear program and its latent capacity to weaponize at a time of its choosing,” they added.
That’s some deal.
The administration’s defenders, many of whom were desperate for some evidence to confirm their preconceived bias in support of any nuclear deal, jumped on a statement by the Saudi government this week that ostensibly backed the goal of preventing any Middle Eastern nation from developing an atomic weapons program. But that rhetorical commitment to nuclear zero was undermined by the fact that the Saudi government also warned the lifting of sanctions on Iran would strengthen the pro-Tehran proxy forces with which the Kingdom was at war in Yemen and elsewhere. Today, that regional conflagration was apparently made worse when it was revealed that the Riyadh-led coalition was seeking Pakistan’s military support for operations in Yemen.
“Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan for military aircraft, warships and soldiers, Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Monday, at the start of a parliamentary debate on whether Pakistan should get involved in a Saudi-led campaign in Yemen,” Reuters reported.
Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s main Sunni Muslim power, has asked Sunni-majority Pakistan to join a Saudi-led military coalition that began conducting air strikes last month against largely Shi’ite Houthi forces in Yemen.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has hedged his bets. He has repeatedly said he will defend any threat to Saudi Arabia’s “territorial integrity” without defining what threat, or what action.
The Iranian government is reportedly lobbying Pakistan to remain neutral in the ongoing conflict on the Arabian Peninsula, and they might find a domestic constituency inside Pakistan that is favorable toward disengagement.
The nuclear-armed Pakistani government, never a pillar of stability, could be threatened if the Saudis compel Islamabad to participate again in an military coalition against an Arab-region nation as they did ahead of the 1991 Gulf War. Writing in Al-Jazeera, Omar Waraich warned that Pakistan is opening a Pandora’s Box by backing the Sunni coalition of belligerents executing airstrikes over Yemen.
Getting involved could also be divisive domestically. The crisis in Yemen isn’t explicitly sectarian, but there are fears that it could lead to a full-blown regional proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Pakistan’s current trouble with anti-Shia violence stems from an earlier Saudi-Iranian proxy war on its soil in the 1980s.
An estimated one-fifth of Pakistan’s population is Shia, making it the largest home to Shias outside Iran. Last Friday, anti-Shia armed groups in Pakistan — including those behind a wave of horrific anti-Shia violence in recent years — took to the streets to rouse support for the Saudis and chant slogans against Iranian influence, just as they did at the start of the Syrian crisis.
Sharif hopes to defuse any hint of sectarianism that could stand in the way of better relations with Tehran, which has traditionally been closer to rivals India and Afghanistan. Under the sanctions regime, plans for a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan were shelved. Now there is hope that those plans can be revived to ease Pakistan’s chronic shortage of winter gas. Iran is also crucial to any postwar settlement in Afghanistan.
The more that is learned about this deal, the less prudent it appears.