Ex-Advisers Warn Obama That Iran Nuclear Deal ‘May Fall Short’
By David E.
The New York
June 24, 2015
former members of President
Obama’s inner circle of Iran
advisers have written an open
letter expressing concern that a pending accord to stem Iran’s
program “may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of
a ‘good’ agreement” and laying out a series of minimum requirements that
Iran must agree to in coming days for them to support a final deal.
of the senior officials said the letter was prompted by concern that Mr.
Obama’s negotiators were headed toward concessions that would weaken
international inspection of Iran’s facilities, back away from forcing Tehran
to reveal its suspected past work on weapons, and allow Iranian research and
development that would put it on a course to resuming intensive production of
nuclear fuel as soon as the accord expires.
public nature of the announcement by some of Mr. Obama’s best-known former
advisers, all of whom had central roles in the diplomatic, intelligence and
military efforts to counter Iran’s program, adds to the challenge facing
Secretary of State John Kerry as the negotiations
head toward a deadline of next Tuesday.
letter was given to the White House and State Department on Wednesday. A senior
administration official, asked about the contents, said that it “in large part
tracks with the U.S. negotiating position inside the negotiating room.”
a day ago Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, heightened the pressure facing negotiators by appearing to
back away from several preliminary understandings reached between Iran and the
West in early April, including in areas where Mr. Obama’s former advisers
urged a hardening of the American position.
the White House, the letter may raise the level of political risk in seeking
approval of any final agreement. A judgment from Mr. Obama’s own former
advisers that the final accord falls short would provide ammunition for
Republican critics who have already said they will try to kill it when it is submitted
to Congress for review.
it creates an opportunity for Mr. Obama as well. The letter was also signed by a
number of prominent Republicans from President George W. Bush’s
administration. A determination by them that the standards set out in the letter
have been achieved would undercut the Republican critique.
of us would have preferred a stronger agreement,” the letter begins, going on
to assess the proposed accord as useful for delaying Iran’s program, but not a
long-term solution to the problem of a nuclear Iran.
agreement will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear
weapons capability,” it continues. “It will not require the dismantling
of Iran’s nuclear enrichment infrastructure. It will however reduce that
infrastructure for the next 10 to 15 years. And it will impose a transparency,
inspection, and consequences regime with the goal of deterring and dissuading
Iran from actually building a nuclear weapon.”
substance of the letter is less notable for what it says — the positions were
frequent talking points for the Obama administration before it faced the
inevitable compromises involved in negotiations — than for the influence of
them is Dennis
B. Ross, a longtime Middle East negotiator who oversaw Iran policy at the
White House during the first Obama term; David
H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director who oversaw covert operations
against Iran until he resigned two years ago; and Robert Einhorn, a longtime
State Department proliferation expert who helped devise and enforce the
sanctions against Iran.
signing the letter were Gary Samore, Mr. Obama’s former chief adviser on
nuclear policy who is now the president of the advocacy group United Against
Nuclear Iran, and Gen. James E. Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff and an architect of Mr. Obama’s effort to build up military
forces in the region.
Republicans, the most notable signatory is Stephen
J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser in his second term, who
presided over efforts to slow Iran’s progress.
the core of the letter are what Mr. Einhorn, now at the Brookings Institution,
called “required elements that have not yet been achieved.” He said that all
the signatories supported a negotiated settlement, and “there is no poison
pill here” intended to undercut the chance of an agreement.
five of the Obama advisers had joined in hours of Situation Room meetings during
the president’s first term, and some into the second, to devise both the
strategy to bring Iran to the negotiating table — a mix of sanctions, sabotage
of the nuclear
program and the prospect of a broader relationship with the West — and the
as often happens in negotiations, the mechanics of the trade-offs to get a deal
often conflict with the negotiating objectives. Inside the White House of late,
there has been what one senior official called “vigorous debate” over the
risks of walking away — which would free Iran to return to full-scale
production — versus accepting a deal whose specifics still leave some
letter gets to the heart of some of those areas, all of which are still under
negotiation and, in some cases, in bitter dispute. For example, the negotiations
that ended in April resulted in vague statements about how inspections would
work, beyond an understanding that Iran would sign an International Atomic
Energy Agency convention giving inspectors broad rights to investigate
suspicious sites. But Ayatollah
Khamenei, along with his commanders, immediately ruled out allowing
foreigners to visit military sites.
letter, referring to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said
inspections “must include military (including I.R.G.C.) and other sensitive
facilities. Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site
anywhere in the country.”
while Mr. Kerry said last week that it was not necessary to make Iran account
for evidence of past effort to work on weapons designs, because the United
States and its allies already had “absolute knowledge” of those activities,
the former advisers view the long-sought answers to those questions as vital.
inspectors, they write, must be able “to take samples, to interview scientists
and government officials, to inspect sites, and to review and copy documents as
required for their investigation of Iran’s past and any ongoing nuclear
weaponization activities.” The letter adds, “This work needs to be
accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.”
another delicate issue in the talks, the letter calls for “strict limits on
advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment in the first 10 years,”
and for measures to prevent “rapid technical upgrade” when those limits
limits were negotiated in April, but the details remain to be resolved.
the hardest part from an Iranian perspective is the insistence in the letter
that the United States publicly declare — with congressional assent — that
even after the expiration of the agreement Iran will not be permitted to possess
enough nuclear fuel to make a single weapon.
letter continued, “Precisely because Iran will be left as a nuclear threshold
state (and has clearly preserved the option of becoming a nuclear weapon state),
the United States must go on record now that it is committed to using all means
necessary, including military force, to prevent this.”
has always insisted that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, and
has argued that after the agreement expires it should be treated like any other
nuclear state, free to produce as much fuel as it desires.
letter emerged from a study group on nuclear issues organized by the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy, a policy institute. Because only members of
the group worked on the statement, it omits some former major players in the
Obama administration’s Iran policy, notably Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will
have to decide whether to embrace any final deal.
For Mrs. Clinton, a presidential candidate who has recently separated herself from some of Mr. Obama’s policies, it will not be an easy decision: As secretary of state, she sent two of her most trusted aides, Jake Sullivan and William Burns, to begin the secret negotiations with Iran that set the negotiations in motion.