Former CIA Director and former commander of U.S. Central Command (ret.) Gen. David Petraeus said last week that he believes the chances that the U.S. and its international partners will reach a final nuclear agreement with Iran are now better than they have been at any point throughout the negotiations, and that a final deal can contain an effective verification regime to ensure Iranian compliance.
“The prospect is actually now maybe better than 50/50, which is not something we would have said even a few weeks ago, much less months ago,” Petraeus said at an event sponsored by Harvard University. “I’m actually starting to believe that an agreement is possible and it could be that it’s possible before this particular six month deadline expires.”
Back in December, President Obama said he thought the chances weren’t that good. “If you ask me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state … I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50-50,” Obama said. “But we have to try.”
During the discussion at Harvard last week, former Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan – who has expressed deep skepticism in the past about the utility of a military strike on Iran – said any agreement with Iran would be problematic because he believes that the Iranians will not live up to their end of the bargain.
“Yeah we shouldn’t accept it, you know, don’t trust, verify. And that will be a big component of it,” Petraeus responded, adding that an intrusive inspection regime should be part of the final deal and it has a real chance of verifying Iran’s compliance.
“I think the vast majority of that is actually doable,” he said. “There are certainly going to be sites that will not be subject to inspection and again you figure out how to supplement that and figure that out.”
The former CIA director said the United States and its allies have had “very good insights” into Iran’s nuclear program over the years. “The worry I would have is what takes place in some covert site somewhere else that is deeply buried – but again that’s not easy to do something like that in this day and age.”
Petraeus’s key point from the discussion was what U.S. policy should be in the event a deal is reached, or as he put it, “the downsides of success” (which he also recently laid out in a Washington Post op-ed).
“One of those is be prepared up front,” Petraeus said. “Tell them what the penalties will be if the agreement is not lived up to and that’s a huge part of this I think.”
Dagan agreed that there must be consequences should Iran cheat, but, he said he believes that ultimately, the chances of achieving a final deal that works in practice “are limited.”
“None of this is easy and you know there’s an alternative out there, which is you don’t get anything and you end up with a strike,” Petraeus again responded. “Is that where you want to go? So again, you do have to weigh the alternatives here very, very heavily.”
Petraeus touched on this point in his Washington Post op-ed as well: “The alternative to successful diplomacy — military action — carries its own set of costs and risks to regional stability and the global economy. And military action holds less promise for decisively ending the nuclear threat than does a good negotiated accord.”
While the Americans and Iranians are currently embroiled in a disagreement over Iran’s newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, both sides appear to share Petraeus’s optimism that a final deal can be reached relatively soon.
Iran has continued to live up to its obligations under the first step agreement reached in Geneva last November. And the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the U.N. nuclear watchdog will release a report this week “certifying that Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb has been greatly reduced because it has diluted half of its material that can be turned most quickly into weapons-grade uranium.” Iran agreed to eliminate this stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity (90 percent enrichment is needed for weapons) as part of the Geneva agreement. (HT: Meir Javedanfar)