President George W. Bush’s national security adviser suggested in an interview published on Monday that it’s likely that Iran will retain the ability and capacity to enrich uranium as part of any final agreement over its nuclear program with the United States and its international partners.
“[G]iven the knowledge they have and the technologies and know-how they have assembled, they are a threshold state,” former top Bush foreign policy aide Stephen Hadley told Al-Monitor. “Would I prefer them to have no enrichment? Of course. The question is, is it realistic? A lot of people who follow this say some enrichment will be part of the deal and a lot of people suggest rightly that the initial agreement signaled as much.”
Hadley’s comments echo what President Obama described in a recent discussion on a final deal with Iran over its nuclear program. “One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone,” Obama said in December. “If we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program, and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and, for that matter, got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it. “But that particular option is not available.”
President Bush’s national security adviser also said this week that if the Iranians end up retaining its enrichment capabilities as part of a final deal, the Israelis will likely accept it. “At the end of the day, if we can come up with a limited enrichment capability that really puts the Iranians back so that breakout is a year to 18 months away [instead of the current few months], he said. “[I]f the alternative is a military strike and all the international isolation of Israel that is likely to follow that, my guess is that the Israelis will choke down the agreement.”
Iran hawks in Congress and Israeli government officials, including the Prime Minister, have said as part of the final agreement, either Iran must dismantle the entirety of its nuclear program or not be allowed to enrich uranium on its soil.
But experts agree with Obama. “[A] permanent end to Iranian enrichment would be ideal, it is also highly unrealistic,” said Iran experts Colin Kahl and Alireza Nader in a Foreign Policy piece published in October. “The Iranian regime has invested enormous amounts of political capital and billions of dollars over decades to master the knowledge and centrifuge technology associated with uranium enrichment — and nothing will put that genie back in the bottle.”
“Experts differ on how many centrifuges [used to enrich uranium] Iran should be allowed to operate,” Ploughshares Fund president and nuclear expert Joe Cirincione wrote this week. “Zero is optimal, but Iran almost certainly will not agree to eliminate totally a program costing billions of dollars over more than a decade.”
Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison (MN) suggested this week that those pushing this so-called “zero-enrichment” stance are essentially trying to scuttle an agreement with the Iranians. “I think that anyone who insists on that provision basically is insisting that there not be a final deal,” he said.
And Hadley may be right about the Israelis. The Jewish state’s former head of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, has said that while it would be ideal for Iran to give up its nuclear program entirely, Tehran retaining some enrichment capabilities would be a “reasonable” outcome for the final deal.
Hadley said he is “optimistic” a final deal will be reached. “Both sides have too much to lose if they don’t get an agreement,” he said. “The difficulty will be in selling it to domestic critics.”