Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008
The Eight lined up in Geneva. From the ever-dapper William Hague on the left, to the surprisingly tall Laurent Fabius on the right.
They assembled to announce an interim agreement with Iran. The Islamic Republic would have to eliminate its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium, refrain from bringing new centrifuges online, halt operations at the plutonium reactor at Arak, and submit to detailed inspections of its known nuclear sites. In exchange, the Iranians got some relief of sanctions, amounting to some $7 billion that President Obama can suspend without asking his uncooperative congress.
As Mark Wallace wrote on this site, no deal is better than a bad deal. That’s not only true for Israel but also for the rest of us. A disaster made in London and Washington was prevented two weeks ago only by a last minute French tackle right on the try line.
Predictions that Paris’s tougher position would cause Iran to abandon the talks, and the insistence that Rouhani would need to bring something more back or would be forced to withdraw have proved wrong. He didn’t even get acknowledgement of the purely symbolic “right to enrich” that could have been given up in lieu of substantive concessions.
But, Saturday’s agreement is only interim. It gives the world another six months to avoid war. Yes, it freezes most of the Iranian programme, and even forces it back a little, but we mustn’t exaggerate the practical difference this makes. Reports that it will double the time Tehran would need to “break out,” to leave the NPT and make a bomb at full-tilt, lose much of their force when we learn that the time has been doubled from around four weeks to eight (about the same time, Binyamin Netanyahu would I’m sure be keen to remind us, than it took Germany, assisted at that point in the war by the Soviet Union, to defeat Poland).
Mr Netanyahu has of course denounced the the deal. His too numerous detractors, having overcome their groans at his latest execrable pun “he can have his yellowcake and have eat it,” have lost no time portraying him as a warmongering fanatic. They underestimate the man if they attribute his ire to emotion at being spurned by his American ally or put it down to posturing for his domestic audience.
For it’s still only half-time, and he still has six months to shape the environment in which any final agreement will take place. Negotiating to end the Vietnam war, Henry Kissinger would joke that he still had his “mad Nixon” card to play. He would admit to Ho Chi Minh and General Giap that his position was hopeless, but let them worry that there was no accounting what enraged Nixon might do. John Kerry has no Nixon in the White House, but he has a Netanyahu in Jerusalem. There’s no harm leaving Tehran guessing about his intentions. That’s why it was foolish of William Hague to bow to Foreign Office anti-Israeli orthodoxy, and warn that he would be on “guard” against Israeli attempts sabotage the deal. The Israeli public deserves reassurance from countries that claim to be it friends an allies.
From an Israeli perspective, the deal is quite good,as an interim but disastrous as a final agreement. So far Iran’s programme has been paused. The full agreement needs to end it. Though knowledge won’t be eradicated, dismantled equipment would take time to replace. On Newsnight last night Daniel Taub, Israel’s Ambassador, set out the dismantling that’s needed to provide security in the region. As for whether Iran has another secret nuclear programme, robust and unannounced inspections by the IAEA’s scientists empowered with a “right to roam” (a fair exchange for a right to enrich) would make that very difficult to conceal. Finally, once Iran has no programme left to bomb, it could hardly complain that supplying Israel with the latest bunker busters would count as a provocation.
On Sunday Ireland went off at half time with a (22–7) lead against New Zealand. What the All Blacks are to rugby, Iran are said to be at negotiation. If the disaster over Syria was more like Ireland’s humiliating defeat to Australia, the Western powers have shown much greater intensity and focus on Iran. Now, unlike the Irish, they need to keep their performance up for the full 80 minutes.