Just after the signing ceremony in Geneva on Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran declared that the world had recognized his country’s “nuclear rights.” He was right.
The agreement Iran reached with the so-called P5+1 — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia, plus Germany — does not significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Iran made only cosmetic concessions to preserve its primary goal, which is to continue enriching uranium. The agreement represents a failure, not a triumph, of diplomacy. With North Korea, too, there were talks and ceremonies and agreements — but then there was the bomb. This is not an outcome Israel could accept with Iran.
Harsh sanctions led Iran to the negotiating table. The easing of those sanctions will now send companies from around the world racing into Iran to do business, which will lead to the eventual collapse of the sanctions that supposedly remain.
Might economic relief, reduced isolation and new goodwill lead to greater pressure on the Iranian regime to reach a fuller agreement later? I doubt it: As recently as last week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced Israel as a “rabid dog,” a jab that Western leaders failed to condemn.
The deal will only lead Iran to be more stubborn. Anyone who has conducted business or diplomatic negotiations knows that you don’t reduce the pressure on your opponent on the eve of negotiations. Yet that is essentially what happened in Geneva.
Iran will not only get to keep its existing 18,000 centrifuges; it will also be allowed to continue developing the next generation of centrifuges, provided it does not install them in uranium-enrichment facilities. Which is to say: Its uranium-enrichment capability is no weaker.
Under the deal Iran is supposed to convert its nearly 200 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity — a short step away from bomb-grade material — into material that cannot be used for a weapon. In practice, this concession is almost completely meaningless.
The agreement does not require Iran to reduce its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent, not even by one gram. Transforming unprocessed uranium into 3.5 percent-enriched uranium accounts for more than two-thirds of the time needed to transform unprocessed uranium into weapons-grade material. And given the thousands of centrifuges Iran has, the regime can enrich its stock of low-level uranium to weapons-grade quality in a matter of months. Iran already has enough of this material to make four bombs.
The Geneva deal, in short, did not address the nuclear threat at all. This was Iran’s great accomplishment. No wonder Mr. Rouhani boasted that the world had recognized Iran’s nuclear rights.
The United States, at the direction of President Obama, has developed sophisticated weaponry specifically in order to deter Iran from going nuclear. But heaven forbid those should have to be used is the dominant feeling in Western capitals. As a result, greater U.S. military capabilities may have given the P5+1 more reason, rather than less, to strike a deal in Geneva. And while the Obama administration maintains that the military option is still on the table in case Iran does not comply with the new agreement, that threat is becoming less and less credible.
Supporters of the agreement emphasize that future inspections in Iran will be frequent and strict. But people familiar with the history of past inspections are skeptical, to say the least. If the Iranians decide to deceive the inspectors, they will succeed; they have in the past.
Proponents of the deal also say that it is only a preliminary agreement and that the real fight will take place down the road. The experience of the past several weeks does not inspire optimism.
The six powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have shown that they wanted an agreement more than Iran did. The party that was targeted by the sanctions has achieved more than the parties that imposed them.
There is no reason to think that the six powers will have more leverage in the future than they had before the Geneva agreement. On the contrary, they just gave that leverage away. After years of disingenuous negotiations, Iran is now just a few months away from a bomb.
The West has surrendered its most effective diplomatic tool in exchange for baseless promises of goodwill. I pray its gamble pays off, for if it does not there will be only one tool left to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The Geneva agreement has made the world a more dangerous place. It did not have to be this way.
Yaakov Amidror was the head of the Israeli National Security Council from March 2011 until earlier this month.