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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

How the U.S. Can Pressure Iran to Dismantle Its Nuclear Facilities

Filed under: Iran, Israel, Israeli Security, Nuclear Warfare, U.S. Policy

How the U.S. Can Pressure Iran to Dismantle Its Nuclear Facilities

I served as Israel’s chief “non-negotiator” during the P5+1 negotiations with Iran during 2013-15. I was the chief “non-negotiator” because we were not part of the P5+1, but we were very active and we know we had a very serious impact. We were trying to influence the outcome of this bad agreement, with some success. Without our intervention, the agreement would have been much worse. Almost all the positive elements in the agreement were put there due to our pressure.

Just to give one example, in the Iran nuclear deal there is a limitation that Iran will not be allowed to enrich uranium above 3.5%. In the past, Iran had already enriched uranium to 20-25%, which is already more than halfway to highly-enriched uranium that is enough for nuclear weapons. Prior to the interim agreement we asked the Americans to reduce the enrichment level. They said it was too late.

But at the last moment I spoke with the French Foreign Minister and he agreed to give the Iranians an ultimatum to reduce the enrichment level. The Iranians walked out, the Americans were furious, but one month later they returned to Vienna and signed the agreement with this restriction, which was also included in the final agreement which was signed two years later.

We demanded complete, comprehensive dismantling of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, like in Libya in 2003. But instead of complete dismantling, we got partial dismantling and for a limited time, only 10 years. So it’s very clear what should be fixed – complete dismantling forever. But what are the chances that Iran will agree to dismantle its nuclear facilities for good? There are three elements that will dictate the final result.

The first is economic pressure. What are the chances that the U.S. alone will be able to resume the same level of economic pressure on Iran that was so effective in 2011-12 and that led to Iranian concessions? My answer is that the U.S. alone can produce greater economic pressure than the heavy economic pressure in 2011-12. The U.S. actually doesn’t need the rest of the world in order to squeeze the Iranian economy and bring it to the verge of collapse. This is because of the power of the secondary sanctions that force international companies to choose between doing business with Iran or the U.S. I assume that in half a year or a year, the situation in Iran will be extremely grave and they will consider coming back to the negotiating table.

The second element involves the U.S. readiness to take military action against Iran if suddenly the Iranians start enriching uranium and put thousands of centrifuges back into operation. It should be crystal clear to the Iranians that if they make such sudden moves, their military infrastructure will be destroyed. No military infrastructure can be immune from air attacks and the U.S. can destroy any nuclear facility in the world, even if some of it is buried underground and even if they have very good air defense systems. Nobody is speaking about this but the Iranians understand this.

The third element involves North Korea. If President Trump’s attempt to dismantle the North Korean nuclear arsenal and facilities will succeed, the pressure on Iran and the pressure within Iran to give up these capabilities will be enormous. If, on the other hand, North Korea will be able to preserve its nuclear arsenal, then the determination within Iran will be totally different. If the U.S. fails in North Korea, the chances of pressuring Iran are going to be very slim.

The speaker, Israel’s Minister of Energy, served as Minister of Strategic Affairs in 2013-15, the period leading up to the Iran nuclear deal. This is from his presentation at the Jerusalem Center on July 11, 2018.