Install more cameras. Kahl said that any deal would also need to include the installation of video cameras capable of round-the-clock surveillance of every one of Iran’s nuclear facilities. The imagery would be transmitted back to the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, giving the organization’s technical experts the ability to watch what was happening at the plants and make sure no weapons-related work was taking place there. Right now, he said, IAEA inspectors can only physically inspect Natanz and Fordo every week or two. The West would also likely insist that Iran ratify the IAEA’s so-called “additional protocols,” which would allow for unannounced inspections of all of the country’s nuclear facilities. Those are far from airtight solutions, however. When North Korea decided to restart its nuclear facility at Yongbyon in 2008, Pyongyang simply took down the cameras and ordered the IAEA’s inspectors to leave the facility.
Shutter the heavy-water reactor. In 2002, Albright’s organization revealed that Iran was building a so-called heavy-water reactor near the city of Arak. That kind of plant can be used to produce plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons. The facility has not yet been completed, however, and Albright says that the West would insist that Arak be completely shut down as part of any deal. There’s a simple reason for that: Once operational, bombing the plant could lead to massive radiation leaks, potentially poisoning tens of thousands of Iranians. If no deal is struck, Albright says, Israel would strongly consider destroying Arak before it came online. Kahl notes the United States could try to forestall an Israeli strike by offering to provide Iran with a light-water reactor, which would provide the same amount of energy as a heavy-water plant without being able to produce the high-quality plutonium needed for a bomb.
There’s ample reason to be skeptical about the prospects for any kind of agreement. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wields all real power in the country, and it’s far from clear that he is genuinely interested in a deal or willing to give Rouhani the authority to negotiate one. Israel’s top leaders believe that Rouhani is trying to fool Western countries into signing an agreement that would “preserve Iran’s ability to rapidly build a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing — the so-called breakout option.” Even if a deal is signed, Israel could easily decide to bomb Iran anyway if it felt Tehran was continuing to work towards developing a nuclear weapon under the eyes of a gullible international community. On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties would almost certainly band together to fight any effort to lift the current sanctions on Iran.
But set aside that pessimism for a moment and consider the prospect of a deal being reached. Kahl, the former Pentagon Middle East official, said that no agreement, no matter how detailed, could permanently persuade Iran to fully abandon its decades-long quest for nuclear weapons. Still, he said, a flawed agreement would be better than no agreement at all.
“I don’t believe that an ideal deal is possible,” he said. “But a good enough deal is a heck of a lot better than either going to war or accepting an Iranian bomb. The alternatives to a deal would be far worse.”