The deadline for the talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 is now less than two days away.
As the time nears for either the ability to announce an “historic agreement” about nuclear weapons with Iran or failure on yet another front, there are reports of an alarming shift in the wind blowing out of the west: a growing inclination to allow Iran to avoid admitting “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of its nuclear program in order to have a historic agreement.
Many news outlets are referring to the condition as merely a “mea culpa” demand, useful only as a tool to humiliate Iran. The suggestion is that the PMD requirement should be relaxed in order to allow Iran to “save face.”
Others, including former members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, have warned that allowing Iran to evade the requirement now, and easing sanctions without securing an agreement from the ayatollahs to acknowledge the PMD of its nuclear program will sabotage any chance of future verification programs.
From the beginning of his administration, U.S. President Barack Obama has soothed potential detractors with his assurance that he would force full Iranian disclosure. “Iran is on notice,” the president said in September of 2009, “they are going to have to come clean.”
Less than two years ago Secretary of State John Kerry reinforced the president’s longstanding demand, stating that “the president has made it definitive” that the Islamic Republic needs to answer all “questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.”
But it isn’t just that the U.S. president - indeed, the entire Western diplomatic effort - has rested on the need for Iran to come clean about its past that makes the PMD absolutely essential. Rather, allowing Iran to evade full cooperation with the IAEA inquiries would neuter any ability of the west to measure what kinds of progress Iran is making with respect to its nuclear program.
This point was made forcefully in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this past spring, “Making Iran Come Clean About Its Nukes.” David Albright, a former Iraq U.N. inspector, and Bruno Tertrais, senior research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, were unequivocal about the need for Iran to address the questions it has been evading by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency about its nuclear weapons development.
To be credible, a final agreement must ensure that any effort by Tehran to construct a bomb would be sufficiently time-consuming and detectable that the international community could act decisively to prevent Iran from succeeding. It is critical to know whether the Islamic Republic had a nuclear-weapons program in the past, how far the work on warheads advanced and whether it continues. Without clear answers to these questions, outsiders will be unable to determine how fast the Iranian regime could construct either a crude nuclear-test device or a deliverable weapon if it chose to renege on an agreement.
Without the essential benchmark information provided by PMD disclosure, any information going forward would be virtually meaningless.
The experts asked the world to consider why anyone should believe that if Iran is given a free pass now to evade questions about its weapons program when “biting” sanctions on its oil exports and financial transactions are in place, how could there be any hope of forcing the Islamic Republic to answer those questions later, after sanctions are lifted?
“Washington and the Europeans have arrived at a critical juncture. If the West fails to demand that Iran verifiably fess up to the military dimensions of its nuclear program, the odds are good that Ayatollah Khamenei would be able to build the bomb without fear of discovery,” Albright and Tertrais wrote.