On Wednesday, The Israel Project hosted a conference call with Dr. Emily Landau of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Dr. Landau is a non-proliferation expert and spoke about the problems with the agreement apparently being negotiated between the P5+1 (United States, China, France, Great Britain, Russia and Germany) and Iran.

Landau focused on four elements of the agreement, as reported that are problematic. She evaluated these terms by the stated standard of an interim by President Obama that “goal of this short term deal is to be absolutely certain that while we’re talking to the Iranians, they’re not busy advancing their program.”

  1. According to reports, P5+1 are willing to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.5%. At this point Dr. Landau said that there is “no plausible civilian explanation” for Iran to need more low enriched uranium, given “its vast stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium.” Given the number of centrifuges Iran has, even at this level, allowing enrichment allows Iran to advance its nuclear program.
  2. A second point that Dr. Landau focused on was Iran’s recently installed next generation centrifuges. These centrifuges can enrich uranium at four to five times the speed of Iran’s currently operating centrifuges. The agreement will apparently will allow Iran to test these centrifuges. Since this is an interim deal, why allow Iran to get these centrifuges ready to operate? If the P5+1 isn’t able to close a permanent deal with Iran in 6 months, then these centrifuges will be ready to enrich then. Again this marks an advancement in Iran’s nuclear program.
  3. The third element of the dealt that concerns Landau is that it won’t stop the construction at the Arak heavy water reactor. This is the point that French foreign minister objected to. So hopefully this will be addressed.
  4. The final element that is problematic is that apparently an inspections regime has been spelled out for various sites in Iran, but not for Parchin. Parchin is where the IAEA detected a containment chamber that could be used for testing nuclear trigger devices. Although Iran has been detected cleaning the site, it is hoped that inspectors could find some residual evidence of what was going on there.

The third and fourth points are especially important as both of them indicate that Iran’s nuclear program is military not civilian. (One does build a reactor of the type at Arak unless one wishes to produce weapons grade plutonium; a trigger is a necessary component of a nuclear bomb.)

Aside from these objections to the reported draft agreement, Dr. Landau made an important point about how the issue is being presented by diplomats and the media:

I think it’s unfortunate that the objections to the draft proposal are being framed as an Israel – specific issue. I think it’s clear from the reservations that I raised – these are technical issues that go to, you know, the specifics of Iran’s nuclear program. They’re not a political issue, it’s not an issue of interpretation.
These are clear technical issues. Anyone who has expertise in these issues would probably see things the same way; and therefore, Netanyahu, yes, he has been pushing Israel to the forefront. As an Israeli, I find that unfortunate, but my question really is: Where are all the others? Why are the negotiators who are at the table not raising the same concerns? Because, as I’ve said, these are not political issues; these are technical issues. So the P5+1, to get the best deal possible, they need to be sure that these problematic aspects that seem to be part of the draft proposal do not remain when they really go for lifting of sanctions.

The only issue that has caused consternation with the P5+1 is Arak, but in all four cases laid out by Dr. Landau, Iran’s actions strongly suggests that it is trying to cross the threshold of developing a nuclear weapon.

To illustrate Dr. Landau’s concerns about how the issue is framed consider this excellent graphic (from the New York Times, of all places). The graphic describes the assessment of the independent Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) of Iran’s nuclear program. According to ISIS Iran is 1.6 months from nuclear “breakout.”

In other words, given its current resources it would take less than two months for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. (The reason Iran doesn’t is because to do so would require a number steps that would be detectable and invite a possible military strike.)  ISIS explains different ways – by reducing stockpiles of enriched uranium and by reducing the number of centrifuges it has operating and other actions – to increase Iran’s breakout time to six months.

Iran is trying to approach its breakout on a number of different fronts. The agreement as reported would not effectively delay Iran’s breakout time. Yet here is how the New York Times reported recent developments Deal May Be Near as New Iran Nuclear Talks Open:

Under the emerging agreement, Iran would continue to enrich uranium to the level of 3.5 percent. But steps would be taken to render its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium less usable for military purposes. Iran would need to accept constraints on its effort to build a reactor that can produce plutonium and would need to accept verification measures. Another aim of an initial agreement is to identify the “parameters” for a more comprehensive, follow-up agreement. A senior Obama administration official said they would not be very detailed but would “set a direction” for the later agreement.

According to this Dr. Landau’s fears are justified but there’s no indication in the reporting how minor the concessions being offered by Iran are. Instead we get reporting like this:

Mr. Obama was not the only leader who has been trying to shape the debate at home as a preliminary agreement appears near. In a speech to a paramilitary group, Iran’s supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted that there were limits to the concessions that Iran would make and underscored the nation’s “nuclear rights,” an apparent reference to Iran’s plans to continue enriching uranium to the level of 3.5 percent. The speech appeared to be aimed both at placating hard-liners while showing his support for the Iranian officials meeting with international negotiators in Geneva.

FWIW, Charles Krauthammer’s latest column ‘Sucker’s deal,’ reiterates many of Landau’s points.

A complete transcript of Dr. Landau’s call is here. A recording of it is embedded below.

[Photo: INSS ISRAEL / YouTube ]