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The Great Debate

On U.S.-Iran deal, devil is in the details

The feel-good mood engendered by promising overtures from Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a settlement in the Iranian nuclear crisis. But the devil — especially in this case — is in the details.

The nuts-and-bolts of Iran’s nuclear program, and whether Tehran can give guarantees that it is not designed to make nuclear weapons will determine whether a deal with the United States is possible.

Here is a look at what Iran has achieved in a decade of intense nuclear work; what the main areas of concern are, and how the Iranian program can be reined in to give adequate guarantees that Iran does not seek the bomb.

In 2002, when Iran was discovered building two secret plants, one at Natanz to enrich uranium and the other that could make plutonium, the Islamic Republic had basically zero capability to make either of these strategic materials. Uranium and plutonium can be part of the fuel cycle that powers atomic reactors — but they are also the two main avenues toward building the explosive core of atom bombs.

Iran has pressed ahead over the past decade, building up its nuclear capabilities. It has continued even as the major powers carried out a diplomatic offensive to get Tehran to suspend both uranium enrichment and the construction of the Arak heavy-water plant, where plutonium could be produced.

First 100 Days: Obama, Iran and Richard Nixon

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

Here is a piece of advice for Barack Obama for dealing with Iran, one of the countries that will loom large in his presidency. Forget the way five of your predecessors dealt with the place. Take your cue from Richard Nixon and his 1972 breakthrough with China.

Just as Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, realized that a quarter of a century of isolating and weakening China had not served America’s interests, so Obama should acknowledge that 30 years of U.S. policy since the 1979 Iranian revolution has failed and that what is needed is a grand bargain, a shift as fundamental as the one Nixon achieved with China.

Those suggestions come from Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, a husband-and-wife team of independent experts who worked on Middle East policy on the National Security Council during George W. Bush’s first term in the White House.

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