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An interim deal reached yesterday between the international community and Iran regarding the country’s nuclear program, will allow Iran to keep the central elements of its uranium program, while stopping its enrichment at a level lower than what is needed for nuclear arms.
In addition to a six-month window for Iran to allow more United Nations access to nuclear sites, sanctions will be eased — notably in the oil, automotive and aviation industries — though not ended.
Jim Walsh, an expert in international security at MIT, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the details of the deal.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, we'll take a look at the political reaction in Washington over this weekend's Iran nuclear deal.
HOBSON: But first let's get to the details of that deal. European officials said today they may ease economic sanctions against Iran as early as next month. Those comments follow the announcement of an interim deal to curb Iran's nuclear program that came over the weekend. And under the six-month deal, international inspectors will have access to the country's nuclear sites in exchange for about $7 billion in sanctions relief.
During that time, Iran and its negotiating partners, led by the U.S., will work toward a longer-term agreement. And the speculation today is that this has opened up a new chapter for the U.S. role in the Middle East. For more we're joined by Jim Walsh, international security expert at MIT. Jim, welcome back.
JIM WALSH: Good to be with you. Before we start, I have a quick announcement. It's my birthday today, and so henceforth...
HOBSON: Oh, happy birthday.
WALSH: Henceforth I will be referring to the Iran nuclear deal as the Walsh Birthday Agreement, even though that's technically not true.
HOBSON: OK. Well, start with the deal itself. You say that there is more substance than you expected.
WALSH: You know, I had a chance to be in New York and met with members of the Iranian negotiating team. I had a pretty fair sense of what they were looking to accomplish and then also on the U.S. side, having spoken to people in Washington. I think this is a stronger deal than I thought. The Iranians really commit to a lot of things that they were hoping to push off into the second phase.
Remember there are two phases here. This is the first. Six months later there'll be sort of the comprehensive agreement. And so there are things like the heavy water reactor that they had hoped to deal with later that they are dealing with up front. And of course the main part of the agreement is they end 20-percent enrichment. That's the thing that proliferation folks like myself are most concerned about, and they have agreed to stop reducing that and get rid of what they have.
But then there are these other things. They've adopted some transparency measures that I would not have guessed, for example giving the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, daily access to facilities. I don't know of - maybe Japan, but no other country I know of gives the agency that level of intrusive inspection.
HOBSON: What about the concerns, though, that some have brought up that they will still have an enrichment program.
WALSH: Oh sure, I mean, that's sort of been the deal now for a while. Way back in 2003, when they had 164 centrifuges, everyone insisted on zero. But they aren't going to go to zero. And then 10 years passed, and now they have 19,000, not 164 but 19,000 centrifuges in the 20 percent. They are not going to go to zero. And that's why France, Germany, Britain, all the P5 plus 1 agreed that yes, you can have a limited enrichment program, three to five percent. You can't make a bomb with three to five percent. But you're also going to have to have enhanced transparency and some new rules.
HOBSON: What about the trust issue? The - one of the leading papers in Iran is already saying the U.S. can't be trusted. There are certainly people in this country, in Washington, saying Iran cannot be trusted. What about that aspect?
WALSH: Well, there is no shocker there. I mean, this relationship three decades old has been characterized by mutual, justified mistrust. We've done things to them, you know, toppled their government, walked away when they helped us with Afghanistan and Karzai. And they've done stuff to us, you know, also equally unjustifiable. So of course there's no trust.
But that's why agreements do have verification, and the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is taking the bulk of that and verifying that they're complying with their obligations.
HOBSON: I'm glad you brought up Afghanistan because I want to talk about what this means for the region, and let's start with Afghanistan. There's been some talk that perhaps this will lead to Iran helping negotiate some kind of a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Your thoughts on what this means for Afghanistan.
WALSH: I think it's mostly positive. I still believe that the center of gravity in Afghanistan is probably with Pakistan, and that's the most important player here with regard to the future of Afghanistan. But yes, Iran is a player in western Afghanistan. They have interests. We have worked together when we first installed the Karzai government.
They have concerns about drug trafficking pouring into their borders. So there are some common interests. They want stability. The one thing we all want here is stability in Afghanistan. And so if there's another partner willing to talk and contribute to that, that's a good thing.
HOBSON: What about Syria, which is in the midst of dismantling its chemical weapons program after this deal with the U.S.? Does it have any implications for Syria?
WALSH: I do think it has implications for Syria; first, the broader conflict. Now listen, you know, the U.S. and Iran are backing different parties. Iran backs Assad or the Alawite government there, the Baathists, and we back the rebels. But we both also have common interests that some of the other players don't have.
We don't want this thing to turn into a nasty sectarian, that's Shia versus Sunni, war that engulfs the region, you know, like a contagion spreading out into Iraq and into other countries. We don't - neither of us want that to happen. So we have some common interests. And, you know, Iran, people forget this, they were gassed by Saddam in the 1980s in the Iran-Iraq War. That's a big deal for them.
There are a lot of veterans with chemical weapons wounds that still live in Iran. And they hate the chemical weapons. They may be backing Syria, but they might be able to be useful in that particular arena, as well.
HOBSON: So you're saying that a negotiated agreement between Iran and the United States would have implications for Iraq, as well.
WALSH: I do, and for Iraq, and if I can circle back to what you were saying, you raised the question of trust before, with respect to the nuclear issue. The reason why these regional issues come into play is because then we might be able to build a little trust. And the implications for Iraq, as well. There's a Shia government in Iraq. Iran wants it to survive; we want it to survive. What do we want? Stability. We don't want a descent into violence. Again, common interests.
HOBSON: We have already heard from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about this. He calls this deal an historic mistake and says that Israel will not be bound by it. What does this do to Israel and U.S.-Israel relations?
WALSH: Well, obviously they're not bound by it because they didn't negotiate it. You know, it was France, Great Britain, Germany, the U.S., Russia, China. So, you know, the basic pillars of the international community. And you'll remember that France sort of pulled back and scuttled the first agreement that they had 10 days ago because it said it wanted to protect Israel's interests.
Well, then France signed onto this deal, and the deal is better. As I said, it dealt with stuff that I didn't think it was going to deal with. My own sense is that the Netanyahu government, that Likud government, which is not all of Israel, there's robust debate in Israel, they have to be careful that they don't put themselves out on a limb here because their rhetoric is getting more and more extreme. And frankly the deal is good for them.
The U.S. and Israel share this concern. They don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, period. And this agreement achieves that or pushes us in that direction. So I think it's an agreement that's good for Israel, and, you know, they should take a good - they should read it. They should read it more carefully.
HOBSON: Jim Walsh, international security expert at MIT. Thanks as always and happy birthday.
WALSH: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.