Aaron SteinPodcast: Iran and the JPOA

Can the West verify a deal with Iran over its nuclear program?

Jeffrey and Aaron discuss Ken Pollack’s oped in the New York Times and ask whether the international community should focus more on inspections or “breakout” times. The discussion includes our thoughts on Iranian nuclear decision-making, the potential for post-deal “spoilers”, and finishes with a plea from Aaron for a visa to visit the Islamic Republic.

Jeffrey and Aaron discussed a number of articles during the podcast including

* Kenneth Pollack, “The Right Way to Press Iran,” New York Times, May 6, 2014.

* Jeffrey Lewis, “The Ayatollah’s Pregnant Pause,” Foreign Policy.com, August 15, 2012.  (And a companion blog post at Arms Control Wonk.com with links to the Rouhani documents we discussed.)

* Jeffrey Lewis, “Our Last, Best Chance,” Foreign Policy.com, November 25, 2013.

* David Albright, Patrick Migliorini, Christina Walrond, and Houston Wood, “Maintaining a Six-Month Breakout Timeline in Iran,” Institute for Science and International Security, February 17, 2014.

* Jeffrey Lewis, “Covert Site in Iran,” Arms Control Wonk.com, September 25, 2009. (Also published as “Iran’s Secret Nuke Sites: Will the World Finally Get Serious?” at Wired.com)

* Glenn Kessler, “Far-Reaching U.S. Plan Impaired N. Korea Deal,” Washington Post, September 26, 2008.

As always, you can subscribe to the (now better sounding) Arms Control Wonk Podcast on iTunes.


  1. George William Herbert (History)

    I liked the comments about viewing both sides’ positions as the burecratic sum of the extremist positions on each side.

    I think that the ultimate answer to the underlying question – can we verify a deal (in the sense of, come up with a verification mechanism robust to the worst political / burecratic / press warfare gaming of the hawks on either side) is no. I think that the hawk positions can gain enough transitory power in a crisis to create a situation which the middle position on the other side can’t counter.

    What I interpret that to mean is that no agreement will be “normal” in the sense of being something whose enforcement can then be safely left to the bureaucrats. That doesn’t mean an agreement can’t work, but it will need active attention (…and constant review and care and feeding) by those who have active and dynamic interest and who would view a solution involving B-2s as ultimately regrettable.

  2. Cthippo (History)

    I think I can answer your initial question about why some people think we’re better off without a deal.

    I think it comes back to the neocon world view that the US has a duty to impose it’s values on the world by pressure if possible and by force if not. By negotiating with Iran we are failing in that mandate and allowing someone to defy us, and that’s just unacceptable.

    I certainly don’t hold this view, but despite the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan it continues to hold a lot of sway. These are the same people who advocate for direct involvement in Syria and castigate Obama for not sending in ground troops at the first inclination things were going haywire in Benghazi.

  3. nukeman (History)

    Considering that the real amount of HEU used in a device can be less than 10kg as reported by NRDC many years ago and nuclearnonproliferation.org rather than the often quoted 25-50kg it is doubtful whether a breakout by Iran could be detected. Anyone disagreeing with this assessment should provide real scientific proof and reference their statements. This is not the time for nonsense but the time for solid, honest assessments.

  4. Rene (History)

    Thanks for sharing your discussion. You touch on potential post-deal spoilers, including Iran’s missile program. As you both mention, it is unlikely for Iran to negotiate over its only pseudo-deterrent, though it might tacitly agree not to increase the range of its missiles. But what about the space program? What do you think would happen if, say, Iran test launches the Simorgh SLV?

  5. nukeman (History)

    Years ago the Saudis conducted studies and wrote reports on EMP effects on satellites and nuclear effects on ground targets. The Iranians have also published EMP related studies over the years and their space program has been looking at hardened electronics. Hardened electronics should not be a surprise as any satellite needs to be protected from space radiation effects.

    An interesting aside is that the Iranians have published a paper looking at how an American earth-penetrating weapon (non-nuclear) would effect a railway tunnel. Chinese codes were used in their calculations.

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