Today, CNAS released a paper by my colleague Dr. Colin H. Kahl that provides some important context for the talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries that took place earlier this month and will continue on Nov. 20. The paper argues (pg. 2) that a final deal should seek three main goals: 1) Lengthen breakout times; 2) Shorten detection timelines; 3) Provide assurances against a covert nuclear infrastructure.
It warns (pg. 4-5) against the dangers of pursuing a maximalist deal for four broad reasons:
1) “[I]t is unclear if any escalation of sanctions could bring the regime to its knees in time to prevent Iran from achieving a breakout capability.”
2) “[S]omewhat paradoxically, escalating sanctions at this moment could actually end up weakening international pressure on Iran.”
3) “[I]ssuing more explicit military threats (through a possible authorization of use of military force, for example) is also unlikely to achieve a maximalist diplomatic outcome.”
4) “[A]ttempting to generate an existential crisis for the Islamic Republic could backfire by increasing the regime’s incentives to acquire nuclear weapons.”
The paper then goes on to explain (pg. 5-6) the major components of a “sufficient” deal. They include, broadly:
1) Significant constraints on uranium enrichment
2) Significant constraints on the plutonium track
3) An intrusive inspections regime
4) Transparency into past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program
Kahl concludes that “if we are to avoid the worst possible outcomes – unconstrained Iranian nuclearization or another major war in the Middle East – then a good-if-imperfect deal is clearly preferable to no deal at all.” Of course, the devil is very much in the details—and Kahl gets into all of them, so read on if you’re interested. You can find the full paper here.