Former Ambassador Dennis Ross says he does not know if the final result of the negotiations with Iran was the best deal possible, but he believes it will go forward. At the same time, Ross recommends steps he wants from the administration to address the agreement’s shortcomings.
Ross spoke on July 28 about the agreement negotiated by the U.S., Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany (the P5+1), and now pending review by the Congress. The talk held at Har Zion Congregation in Wynnewood, PA, and sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was also simulcast downtown and webcast over the internet. The video is still available online. (Skip ahead 100 minutes to avoid the recording taken while the room was being set up.)
There is no easy answer to the question what to do with the Iran agreement, according to Ross. If the U.S. refuses to approve the agreement, it is likely that international sanctions against Iran will collapse anyway, and we will have no bargaining power sufficient to achieve any better deal. Thus Ross concludes that the agreement, despite its “vulnerabilities,” needs to be considered.
Ross laid out the favorable elements of the agreement: For 15 years Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. The amount of fissionable material allowed under the agreement, 300 k.g., is inadequate to manufacture even one bomb. By comparison, Iran has approximately 10,000 k.g. of fissionable material in its stockpile today.
Moreover, the supply chain for the development of fissionable material will be monitored for 25 years. Ross explained the two paths to secure fissionable material:
- enrichment of uranium through cascades of centrifuges, or
- development of plutonium in a heavy water reactor.
Either process requires extensive equipment and operations. Based on the successful experience of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in identifying past Iranian nuclear development, Ross is optimistic as to the effectiveness of the inspection regime under the new agreement.
Other positive elements of the Agreement were pointed out:
- In addition to disposing of most of its fissionable material, Iran must remove and destroy the core from its heavy water plutonium reactor.
- Its modern centrifuges must be removed for 10 years.
- The inspection rights of the U.S. under the agreement are stricter than any international program ever instituted, other than the program we operated in Iraq after we took over that country.
Ross also provided his opinion of the “bad news”: Iran does not have to entirely dismantle its nuclear infrastructure and can produce highly enriched uranium, although at a much lower pace than at present. Iran will be free after 15 years to move into weapons-grade uranium development as rapidly as it wishes.
Sanctions relief for Iran will arrive as soon as it has completed dismantling facilities and reducing its stockpile. This might occur in as little as six months although Ross believes it is more likely to take a year. Although sanctions may snap back if Iran violates its agreement in whole or in part, if that occurs there is language indicating that Iran is not obligated to obey the limits on its nuclear program.
Ross accepts the probability that sanction relief will permit Iran to raise the levels of financial support it presently provides to Hamas and other terrorist activities. But he reiterates the prospect that sanctions will disappear, whether Congress approves the agreement or not.
Ross suggests that the U.S. add teeth to the agreement by announcing that it will resume the use of sanctions if there is any cheating by Iran. He urges that we develop specific further agreements with our European allies as to when and how their sanctions would be automatically reimposed in case of a breach, especially in the likely case of minor breaches.
After year 15, Iran would be a nuclear threshold state and could acquire a bomb quickly enough that sanctions would not be a sufficient deterrent. Accordingly, Ross recommends that we immediately clarify that even after 15 years we would not tolerate the development of nuclear weapons by Iran and that we would apply force if we saw that happening. Of course, even if we say we will do this, Iran might not believe us. In that case, to ensure that Iran is deterred from weaponizing their nuclear material, Ross recommends that we arm Israel with the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator along with the B-52 bombers necessary to carry them. This 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bomb is really a “mountain buster bomb” and no one doubts that Israel would be willing to use these weapons if need be.
Audience members asked about the strain in Israel’s relations with the U.S. Noting that fully 70% of Israelis are unhappy with the agreement, Ross pointed to the very real threat they face from Iran and its support of Hamas. Although relations between the Netanyahu government and Washington are strained, Ross predicts no permanent impairment, noting our shared values and the democratic qualities of the State of Israel that are unique in the Middle East.
When questioner asked whether Israel remains free to attack Iran despite the agreement, Ross noted that entering the agreement implies that the U.S. will support, not sabotage the negotiated program. But this does not mean the U.S. is required to prevent action by Israel that is not a signatory to the P5+1 agreement with Iran.
Overall, Ross emphasizes the favorable aspects of the terms reached with Iran and concludes that the negotiated agreement, like the title of his book on the U.S.-Israel relationship, is “doomed to succeed.”