Michael KreponThe Iran Deal

The framework agreement reached by the United States and its negotiating partners with Iran is a significant accomplishment, imposing substantial constraints on Tehran’s ability to make nuclear weapons. If it is finalized, only one other executive agreement dealing with nuclear weapons will have been more consequential — the first Strategic Arms Limitation accord negotiated by President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger with the Soviet Union in 1972.

SALT I was deemed an “Interim Agreement” — it was supposed to be a placeholder until a new treaty could be negotiated. Because it placed important limits on US and Soviet nuclear weapon delivery vehicles, the Nixon administration decided to seek the Congress’s approval in the form of a legally binding congressional-executive agreement. Simple majorities in both Houses of Congress were required for its passage. The Senate and the House of Representatives approved the Interim Agreement with just two and four dissenting votes, respectively. A companion agreement, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, was sent to the Senate for its advice and consent. Only two Senators disapproved of its ratification.

The framework agreement with Tehran which must now be finalized in painstaking detail, places all of its constraints on just one party – Iran. As such, there is no legal requirement for the Obama administration to secure Congressional consent under the provisions of Section 33 of the old Arms Control and Disarmament Act, which was preserved after the demise of ACDA and is now codified at 22 US Code, Section 2573 (b). (I know this because my mentor on the legal aspects of arms control, David Koplow of Georgetown Law School, tells me so.)

Here is the language of 22 US Code, Section 2753(b):

“No action shall be taken pursuant to this chapter or any other Act that would obligate the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in a militarily significant manner, except pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President set forth in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution or unless authorized by the enactment of further affirmative legislation by the Congress of the United States.”

Many Republicans on Capitol Hill will remain unalterably opposed to the framework agreement, notwithstanding the unprecedented constraints it places on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Republican majorities have shown their hand by giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a megaphone to imply that President Barack Obama is a modern-day Neville Chamberlain and by writing an open letter to Iran’s theocratic leadership seeking common cause in killing a deal. To reverse course now would clarify poor judgment earlier; to stay the course would confirm past misjudgment.

Republicans don’t trust Obama to serve U.S. national security interests. But “just saying no” to diplomacy is far less trustworthy. The Obama administration deserves the time to finalize the details of this agreement without Congressional attempts to blow it up by the pursuit of new and stronger sanctions. Killing this agreement will lead to the implosion of the negotiating coalition and the very sanctions that some Members of Congress seek to strengthen. Worse, limitations on Iranian nuclear capabilities will erode quickly, placing great stress on the Non-proliferation Treaty. Killing the deal also raises the likelihood of another open-ended U.S. military campaign in the region.

The Washington-based Republican Party has changed radically since Nixon and Kissinger negotiated arms limitation with the Kremlin and opened doors to “Red” China. Republican administrations have previously been instrumental in drawing down nuclear excess and in negotiating nuclear arms reduction treaties. In a bygone era, President Ronald Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall while working with him to tear down nuclear force structure. President George H.W. Bush and his advisers negotiated not one, but two strategic arms reduction treaties.

President George W. Bush’s administration significantly reduced the U.S. nuclear stockpile, but was unenthusiastic about treaties. By the turn of the century, accomplished elders in the Republican Party’s national security establishment were replaced by a generation more reckless in the use of American power and ideologically opposed to negotiating with evil. One result was unconstrained nuclear programs by North Korea and Iran.

Democratic Presidents have always had difficulties securing Republican support for nuclear negotiations, in part because they have been perceived as being too lax in dealing with adversaries. Obama will need to emulate Reagan’s dealings with Gorbachev in seeking both a nuclear agreement with Iran and countering Iranian moves that worry friends and allies. My sense is that this dual-track strategy is already underway, as is evident by the administration’s decision to resume arms sales with Egypt.

How and when sanctions are lifted matters greatly. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill won’t be happy with the timing. But Obama, unlike Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, isn’t negotiating a treaty. He is negotiating an executive agreement that is clearly within his presidential authority. The Iran agreement, unlike the SALT I Interim Agreement but like most executive agreements, will be politically, but not legally binding. This presidential authority is as clear as the authority to withdraw from treaties, as Bush 43 demonstrated with respect to the ABM Treaty.


  1. krepon (History)

    Here is the White House fact sheet:


    I have not seen a translation of the Iranian release.


    • Yeah, Right (History)

      Isn’t it better to regard the WH Fact Sheet as a document on full-spin-cycle, just as you should regard any Iranian release as being set-to-spin-dry?

      Why not look to the official joint communique, which is here:
      or the official text, which is here:

      Surely it is better to read what the plan actually says, rather than rely upon what the US State Department “says that it says”.

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      Oops, sorry, the second link is to the interim Joint Plan of Action, not the current Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action.

      My mistake.

      Anyone know where the official text is? Does an official text actually exist?

  2. Cthippo (History)

    Been waiting for the official ACW take on this agreement since the news on it broke.

    Couple of thoughts on the agreement…

    The “dedicated procurement channel” is interesting. It represents a realization that Iran will need parts to keep their allowed equipment spinning. It both legitimizes the Iranian program, while at the same time giving the west another way to keep tabs on it. Has this ever been done before?

    Any word on what the :agreed set of measures” concerning PMD is? If any single issue was going to kill the deal it was PMD and I’m curious how they worked around the elephant in the room.

    “Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.” Surprised Iran agreed to this. Wonder what these restrictions are.

    All in all, it looks like a pretty solid agreement, though as always the devil will be in the details. I’m not too concerned about Iranian compliance, but what happens if the Congress votes to re-impose sanctions which were eliminated under the agreement? Would that be considered an abrogation?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I agree that the PMD disclosure is too nebulous in the framework, but I am long on record that (although it pains me to say this) a full PMD disclosure which broke the deal otherwise was not necessary or desirable.

      It’s reasonably safe to assume R265 and test chambers.

      If you just assume the worst case there (a relatively large novel U implosion bomb design and components and warhead design are on their shelf) and proceed on that basis to focus on interdicting fissile material production for bombs via inspection regime etc, that doesn’t much matter. South Africa was very cagey about aspects of their bomb design after they unilaterally disarmed. Nobody seems worse off for it.

    • krepon (History)

      If we ever get to the bottom of what happened re PMD prior to 2003, when these activities reportedly stopped, will it have a bearing on the utility of current and future constraints?

      If confirmation is determined, it would make the framework agreement’s constraints even more meaningful.

      If there is no confirmation, these constraints would be no less meaningful.

      Jeffrey has written about this and came to roughly the same conclusion before the framework agreement was reached.


    • yousaf (History)

      Unfortunately PMD is still in there — at least according to the WH factsheet which Iran has not signed off on:

      ” All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).”


      I agree with MK that PMD does not have much bearing on things going forward and anyway investigating weaponization issues is not the IAEA’s strong suit.

      One hopes that sanction relief will not be tied to the resolution of PMD else this may turn out to be a poison pill for the agreement.

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      No, Iran didn’t agree to those provisions being included in a new SC resolution.

      What you are reading is the White House Fact Sheet, not the actual text of the Joint Plan Of Action.

      Or, put another way: you are reading what “Obama says the Iranians agreed to”, which is not necessarily what “the Iranians agreed to”.

    • tms5510 (History)

      I think the fact sheet is simply new nego. opening for US.

    • Ian Stewart (History)

      Some thoughts from Alpha on the trade aspects of the agreement…


      Will be putting something more out in the next day or two.

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      Ian, interesting document. Though, in essence, all it says is “the devil is in the detail”.

      I’d like to point to an intriguing line in the EU/Iran Joint Statement that is not referenced in the USA Fact Sheet: “Iran will take part in international cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy which can include supply of power and research reactors.”

      Now, I’m sure that everyone just assumes that means that Iran will be allowed to import a research reactor INTO Iran to replace (say) the existing Tehran Research Reactor.

      But that statement doesn’t actually include the word “import”, and so it is not at all explicit on that matter.

      Nobody ever said that the Iranians were stupid. Maybe they have a 10-year plan to develop an big EXPORT market for their nuclear know-how and, who knows, maybe within the next ten years Iran will have cornered the market in cheap, high-tech, nuclear research reactors….

      After all, who in 2005 ever thought that the Iranians would be developing IR-8 Centrifuges? Or that they would have so mastered the nuclear cycle that they were in the position where they were a mere 2 months away from making weapons-grade uranium?

  3. Scott Monje (History)

    The dual track may also be evident in Yemen, although I think it’s a mistake. The link between the Houthis and Iran is tenuous, and I suspect that the Houthis would be more than content to trade Iran for another patron, an alternative that would be far cheaper than the mess that the Saudis are starting there now.

  4. yousaf (History)

    Here is the Iranian factsheet which differs considerably from the White House version:


    “…all of the sanctions will be immediately removed after reaching a comprehensive agreement”

    i.e. in July?

    cf. WH version:

    “” All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the *completion* , by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).”

  5. J-Law (History)

    Mr. Krepon – I’m curious about your take on these claim from the WH Fact Sheet:
    >”Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design that is agreed to by the P5+1, which will not produce weapons grade plutonium, and which will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production.
    The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country.”

    What exactly does that mean? Are they saying that Iran has agreed to an alteration to the reactor core configuration to remove existing irradiation channels for in-line irradiation of U238->Pu239? Because I fail to see how any core changes would make it impossible to use the Arak reactor to produce Pu. Maybe the IAEA inspections regime (still to be detailed, apparently) can prevent irradiation of U238 at time scales/power levels optimized to maximize Pu239 production, but strict IAEA verification could prevent that with the current config too, whatever it is. Do you have any guesses/ideas on what is being proposed in terms of physical alterations to the IR-40 reactor that would somehow make it less able to produce Pu239?
    thanks for your comments.

    J. Law

    • anon (History)

      The U.S. fact sheet says the rebuilt Arak reactor “will not produce “weapons-grade plutonium.” The Iranian fact sheet says the redesign will decrease the amount of plutonium produced and will significantly increase the reactor’s efficiency.

      I take that to mean that the reactor will be converted to use enriched uranium fuel, which will produce both a higher neutron flux (better for research) and higher burnup spent fuel (not containing weapons-grade Pu) and less plutonium (less of that pesky U-238 to absorb neutrons).

      Of course, the reactor would still be able to produce weapons grade plutonium, either by removing fuel early or by irradiating targets, but I presume there is an understanding that Iran would not do either.

  6. Yeah, Right (History)

    A point regarding centrifuges.

    All the parties agree that only a fixed number of the older IR-1 models can be used for enrichment, with the excess kept under IAEA lock-and-key.

    But the wording regarding the more advanced models is a little problematic.

    EU/Iran Joint Statement: “Iran’s research and development on centrifuges will be carried out on a scope and schedule that has been mutually agreed.”

    Not much joy there, except to note that centrifuge R&D isn’t going to be scrapped.

    USA Fact Sheet: “Iran will not use its IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IT-6, or IR-8 models to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years. Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.”

    OK, definitely not scrapped, though R&D will be closely watched.

    Now, call me paranoid, but after “Research and Development” comes “Mass Production”, and about that the Fact Sheet is silent.

    Iran Fact Sheet: “Iran will continue its research and development on advanced machines and will continue the initiation and completion phases of the research and development process of IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 centrifuges during the 10 year period of the Comprehensive Plan for Joint Action.”

    Again, that talks about “R&D”, but doesn’t mention what happens after that R&D “completion phase” is, err, “completed”.

    Certainly it makes no mention of “Mass Production”.

    Now, people should consider this point: if something isn’t proscribed by this deal then, axiomatically, it’s allowed by this deal.

    And while the P5+1 might assume that once the R&D phase is complete then that’s where everything stops, sure, that ain’t necessarily so folks.

    The Iranians could – and probably will – claim that once the R&D phase is complete then there is nothing in the JCPOA that stops them from manufacturing IR-8 Centrifuge by the tens of thousands.

    And they’d be right.

    Nothing in any of those three documents places any restriction on Iran mass-producing IR-8 centrifuges by the bucket-load.

    They wouldn’t be able to plug ’em into an enrichment cascade, sure, but they’d be able to build those suckers and – why not? – sell ’em to anyone who wants to buy them.

    Wendy Sherman might like to consider that between now and June…..

    • yousaf (History)

      As the Nov 2013 JPOA (not JCPOA) states: after the term of the Comprehensive deal is over, Iran regains its full rights under the NPT. So yes, as many have noted, the NPT is rather lax in fuel cycle rights.

    • anon (History)

      The way I read the various statements is that they are talking about the same thing but citing them selectively and “spinning” them for domestic audiences.

      Regarding advanced centrifuges, the U.S. fact sheet says (in the inspections section):

      “Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing base will be frozen and under continuous surveillance.”

      This seems to rule out mass production of centrifuges for which there is currently no mass production capability.

      The U.S. fact sheet also says:

      ” Inspectors will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years. Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.”


      “Beyond 10 years, Iran will abide by its enrichment and enrichment R&D plan submitted to the IAEA, and pursuant to the JCPOA, under the Additional Protocol resulting in certain limitations on enrichment capacity.”

      It is not clear whether these refer to the same plan or one plan that is agreed and another that will be submitted to the IAEA, and what time period os covered by the plan(s) – first ten years only, years ten-twenty, or perhaps even beyond.

    • Yeah, Right (History)

      Fact Sheet: “Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing base will be frozen and under continuous surveillance.”

      Since the phrase is “manufacturing base” and not “manufacture” then I would take that to mean that”
      a) Iran can keep all its existing factories
      b) Iran can’t build any new factories.

      “This seems to rule out mass production of centrifuges for which there is currently no mass production capability.”

      That seems an…. odd…. statement.

      Everyone agrees that Iran has already manufactured over 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges.

      I’m unsure how many zeros do you need after the “1” before in item is considered to be mass produced, but I’d suggest a “1 followed by four 0’s” definitely qualifies.

  7. Cthippo (History)

    For better or worse, this is going to make it harder for the US to claim that country X shouldn’t have the right to a complete fuel cycle. The next time it comes up the country in question is going to say “Well, if Iran, who previously cheated on the NPT, gets domestic enrichment, then why shouldn’t we?”.

    The flip side of that is that IAEA can say “OK, you can enrich, but we get to implement an Iran grade monitoring regime”.

    This agreement may mark an unintentional move in non-proliferation from “you can’t have it” to “you can have it but we’re going to watch you closely”, at least in terms of enrichment. In the grand scheme of things this might work better and seems, to me at least, more fair.

    • krepon (History)

      This would be a problem for the NPT regime whether or not an agreement is finalized with Iran. It would be a much bigger problem in the absence of an agreement.
      Over the next ten years, NPT backers will spend quality time on norms relating to enrichment. The strictures relating to Iran matter greatly. I’m impressed by what the Obama administration achieved. The argument that this is a bad deal because it allows modest enrichment baffles me. Real world choices are (a) modest enrichment under scrutiny, or (b) worse terms under scrutiny; or (c) no constraints on enrichment with no scrutiny.

    • rwendland (History)

      Why need Country X point to Iran at all?

      Japan has totally upgraded its small/mid-sized enrichment plant at Rokkasho to a new composite carbon fiber rotor centrifuge (developed by Sumitomo Electric Industries and IHI Corporation) between 2010 and 2012. As far as I can see there was no criticism from the IAEA or anyone else over this. So wouldn’t Country X do better by pointing to non-contentious Japan instead?

  8. yousaf (History)

    The most important part of the factsheet is not on the factsheet but on State’s preabmble to the factsheet:


    ” Important implementation details are still subject to negotiation”

  9. krepon (History)

    Chuck Todd on Meet the Press counters Senator Chris Murphy’s assessment that this is a “pretty remarkable” deal by noting that it doesn’t require “behavioral” change by Iran.

    Well, asking for behavioral change in Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran, as well as other countries is asking for quite a lot. This can be a very expensive proposition. It wears out U.S. armed forces, and it usually doesn’t succeed in the Middle East.

    It is nonetheless possible to curtail nuclear capabilities in negotiations — especially in countries whose behavior we object to — and this is what the draft agreement with Iran does.


  10. krepon (History)

    Two very useful analyses from the Belfer Center:

    Gary Samore on negotiating hurdles:


    and Graham Allison on the numbers:


  11. Guest-238 (History)

    The status of Fordow also raises questions.

    US fact sheet provides some details: Commitment by Iran not to enrich U there for at least 15 years; No FM to be on site; Almost 2/3 of c/fs to be removed; Site to become a research centre.

    But the suspicious are left wondering:

    Will this include stable isotope separation (SIS) via enrichment technology? If so will that be limited to use of IR-1s? In which case there is unlikely to be any further advancement of proliferation relevant knowledge given ongoing enrichment of U at FEP.

    Or is there a potential loophole where Iran could install advanced c/fs at Fordow for SIS? In this case there is a potential for significant advancement of proliferation relevant knowledge. Advanced c/fs are to be used with U in a very limited way at the PFEP – tails are re-fed, full capabilities of the machines and cascades therefore cannot be tested. If this limitation is bypassed, however, by SIS production using advanced c/fs at Fordow then Iran will gain significant experience which would allow, to make a complex story very brief, a very shorted “break-out capability” should they chose to go that route in the future.

    Such concerns go to the heart of the issue. What details are yet to be negotiated and how difficult will that be? Who in Iran still wants to maintain a robust effort towards NW capability, what influence do they have, and how will this effect the final deal? Are they actively seeking loopholes to allow progress, albeit limited, along the NW track or is this just the result of a complex deal addressing a complex issue?

    And this takes us to the PMD issue. While it is true that we will likely never be able to get a full accounting of the past, the South African model should be our minimal goal. While the IC does not know all details of the SA NW program we were fully reassured that nothing exists any longer. The capability was dismantled. So far in Iran there is no certainty whatsoever that the program is dismantled.

    Thus while a FULL accounting of PMD is not possible SOME accounting of PMD is not only necessary, but is the only true litmus test of full Iranian cooperation.

    To take a quote from an old thread that boils it down – we need to know what Mr. Fakrizadeh and Co are up to now.

  12. yousaf (History)
  13. krepon (History)

    Kissinger and Shultz weigh in on the op-ed page of the WSJ. Key passages:

    If the Middle East is “proliferated” and becomes host to a plethora of nuclear-threshold states, several in mortal rivalry with each other, on what concept of nuclear deterrence or strategic stability will international security be based? Traditional theories of deterrence assumed a series of bilateral equations. Do we now envision an interlocking series of rivalries, with each new nuclear program counterbalancing others in the region?…

    Absent the linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony. They will increasingly look to create their own nuclear balances and, if necessary, call in other powers to sustain their integrity. Does America still hope to arrest the region’s trends toward sectarian upheaval, state collapse and the disequilibrium of power tilting toward Tehran, or do we now accept this as an irremediable aspect of the regional balance?…

    If the world is to be spared even worse turmoil, the U.S. must develop a strategic doctrine for the region. Stability requires an active American role. For Iran to be a valuable member of the international community, the prerequisite is that it accepts restraint on its ability to destabilize the Middle East and challenge the broader international order.
    Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached, the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms. History will not do our work for us; it helps only those who seek to help themselves.

    • yousaf (History)

      What do Mr. Kissinger and Schultz propose as an alternative? No deal and unlimited fuel cycle activity in Iran? It could be OK with IAEA safeguards as per CSA.

      Or war? That would — as with Osirak attack in Iraq –likely lead to a formal and resolute nuclear weaponization program in Iran:


      I don’t see any creative constructive proposals in the WSJ OpEd just dubious criticism.