Analysis: Iran deal is victory for Obama...for now

By Meir Javedanfar, October 21, 2009

After three days of intensive negotiations with the US, France and Russia, Iran has agreed to a draft deal on the status of its nuclear programme. Although the exact details of the deal are not yet clear, it appears that Iran is to export most of its Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) to Russia.

This deal is a victory for Barack Obama, as he has managed to convince Iran to give up what many believe is somewhere between 75 – 80 per cent of its LEU. That means for now, it will be impossible for Iran to make a nuclear bomb, as the LEU it needs will no longer be in the country.

Note the words, “for now”.

In other words, while this is a victory for President Obama, it is only a temporary one.

What the deal does not cover is the fate of Iran's enrichment programme, and this is where the main concern is. As long as Iran continues to enrich Uranium on its soil, something which the UN currently sees as illegal, Ayatollah Khamenei will maintain the capability to make a bomb in the future.

Iran currently produces 3 kg of LEU per day. As part of the current deal, Iran will be compelled to transfer approximately 1,200 kg of its LEU to Russia. At current production rates, Iran will be able replace all of its transferred LEU in little over 13 months. Depending on where Iran's relations will be with the West by then, Ayatollah Khamenei could keep the LEU in Iran, or send it abroad. It will be up to him, as he is currently only obliged to send the existing batch. Nothing has been mentioned about future supplies.

The deal also does not compel Iran to increase its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its inspectors. This is another concern which could, in the future, take the shine off Mr Obama's victory.

Until now, Iran's cooperation with this organisation has been half-hearted. It reluctantly agreed to inspections after a secret enrichment facility at Natanz was exposed in 2002. After that, on some occasions Iran cooperated with the IAEA. On others, it told half truths, blocked access to inspections or plainly lied about its activities, for example after the exposure, earlier this month, of the secret site in Qom.

Many were hoping that Mr Obama could at least get Iran to agree to more stringent inspections so that, while the current deal is being carried out, concerns about deviations in Iran's path could be alleviated. However this will not be happening now.

13 months of reprieve. That is what Obama has gained from the current deal. More work remains. Much more.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli political analyst

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010