Yesterday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said, we should “cease all appeasement, conciliation, and concessions toward Iran, starting with these sham nuclear negotiations.”
He insisted on a return to neo-conservative policies when handling Iran, while speaking at the Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Conservative Policy Summit.
I guess he forgot where that policy got us. Just over a year ago, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “In 2003, my friend, Iran had 164 centrifuges: Now they have 19,000. You know what Zarif said to me? ‘You know what your sanctions have gotten you? 19,000′”
Yes, the same policy Sen. Cotton, barely a month into his first term in Senate, is backing has been tried before. And it actually put us in a worse position. Sanctions and isolation took us from a little over a 150 centrifuges to 19,000. Those centrifuges were spinning and enriching to levels well above the current 5%–a level both sides agreed to in the Joint Plan of Action in 2013.
Also included in the JPA are enhanced inspections of enrichment facilities and other nuclear sites by the IAEA. Prior to the JPA, while we refused to engage Iran in earnest, inspections were not as extensive or invasive. Since the JPA has been signed, daily inspections of enrichment facilities and other sites take place.
But Sen. Cotton’s approach would eliminate that–even though he does call for more rigorous inspections, there’d be little chance Iran would allow them if negotiations are called off. He’s essentially advocating to reduce our capabilities to monitor Iran’s nuclear program.
To be clear, IAEA inspection teams still do not have access to Parchin–a military site. There are many questions about past activities there and rightly so. But while an attempt to sneak out at Parchin–or any other covert site–may not be caught initially, the enhanced inspections would likely catch any attempt with sufficient time to respond. Again, Sen. Cotton’s policy would eliminate enhanced inspections, thus making it more difficult to catch any attempted breakout–overt or covert. (I discuss breakout capabilities in more detail, below.)
Sen. Cotton concludes his rant with an unverified charge that President Obama and the Iranian government have some secret pact, “what started as an unwise policy has now descended into a dangerous farce. One can only suspect an unspoken entente between the Obama administration and Iran: the U.S. won’t impose new sanctions on Iran and will allow it to develop threshold nuclear capabilities, while Iran won’t assemble a bomb till 2017.”
The freshman Senator from Arkansas, the same guy that wanted to include a “Corruption of Blood” provision in a House sanctions bill being debated in May 2013, continues to show his total ignorance when it comes to Iran policy. Nevermind that his “Corruption of Blood” provisions was grossly unconstitutional, the idea that somehow given these negotiations Iran could now be able to develop threshold nuclear capabilities is gratuitous at best.
As Paul Pillar puts it, “In short, breakout is a scary fantasy, but no more than that. It is a badly flawed standard for formulating a negotiating position or for evaluating a deal with Iran.”
He explains that any agreement would entail a longer breakout time. Of course, without an agreement, that time would be shortened. And a longer breakout time has already been guaranteed, since Iran has a) capped its enrichment level at 5% and b) diluted and/or converted its 20% stockpile in July.
But that really doesn’t matter. The current agreement–as I said above–also calls for enhanced inspections, which would detect any attempted breakouts. This really wouldn’t matter, as well, since an attempted break out would be followed by a heavy response by the US and its allies well before the breakout is completed.
The biggest reason, however, is that with an agreement Iran wouldn’t have the incentive to attempt a breakout. As I said above, we’d find out relatively quickly–thanks to enhanced inspections–and the response would likely be heavy handed ranging from military strikes to even more draconian sanctions. With no incentive to stay on track, which is what would happen if negotiations are scuttled like Sen. Cotton wants, Iran would be more willing to cheat like they did previously–expanding from 164 centrifuges in 2003 to 19,000 in 2013.
Without an agreement, anything can happen. By reaching a settlement we limit the possible outcomes and can control the playing field.
But by calling for an end to negotiations and the passing of increasingly draconian sanctions on Iran, one thing is clear. Sen. Cotton has very publically embraced a neo-conservative vision. Which is ironic, since, as a veteran of neo-con follies in the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, he should be well aware of the costs of such an embrace–or maybe he just doesn’t care.