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Deal Leaves Iran's Nuclear Facilities Intact


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's talk more about the Iranian nuclear deal with Tony Blinken. He is the White House Deputy National Security Advisor. Mr. Blinken, welcome back to the program.

TONY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: And let's remind people it's a six month deal, temporary until you can get a longer one. You make concessions on sanctions. Iran neutralizes some enriched uranium, but as you know, your critics have noted Iran doesn't dismantle any equipment. They do nothing permanent. Why is that a good deal?

BLINKEN: It's a good deal because for the first time in a decade it halts Iran's program and, indeed, it rolls it back at certain key respects. And it gives us exceptional monitoring to the program with access for inspectors that we haven't had before. That means that basically Iran's three most likely paths to a bomb - that is, enriching uranium 20 percent and making that into high enriched uranium for a bomb, or the combination of a big stockpile of 3.5 percent uranium and new centrifuges.

Or a facility, a plutonium facility in Iraq.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

BLINKEN: All of those pathways are cut off for the duration of this agreement.

INSKEEP: When you say rolls it back in some respects, how many more months or years have been added on to the time that Iran would need to get a bomb if they went for one?

BLINKEN: It's most likely a matter of months. There are some scenarios under which it's shorter than that but those scenarios are pretty farfetched. We're talking about adding probably several months to its breakout time, but the important this is, because of the new inspections that we get, including daily access to its most important facilities, we would be able to detect any efforts to break out almost instantaneously.

INSKEEP: When you said that you could ratchet the sanctions back up if you need to, can you really?

BLINKEN: Oh, absolutely. But keep in mind, what's very important here is this. The architecture of the sanctions stays in place and more than that, the sanctions continue to be implemented with their full force. And so for the duration of this interim agreement, for the six months, the sanctions will actually increase on Iran.

INSKEEP: Well, you hope so. But Aaron David Miller, veteran U.S. diplomat with a lot of experience in this part of the world was writing over the weekend there's a tyranny of process here. Once you get started with this peace process it would be hard to go back on it. It would be hard to ratchet the sanctions back up because that's the end of it.

And we might note, as a matter of fact, that a lot of countries around the world might not be as eager as the United States to ratchet them back up again.

BLINKEN: You know, with all respect, the sanctions are not getting rolled back. The way this works is this. Iran has more than $100 billion that is basically blocked in foreign accounts around the world as a result of the sanctions. It's basically getting over the six months a one-time, very monitored, very carefully drawn withdrawal of about $6 to $7 billion in total out of more than $100 billion.

And, indeed, that $100 billion amount continues to grow over the six months as the existing sanctions continue to be implemented. So there's no question of the sanctions unraveling during this period of time. To the contrary...

INSKEEP: There are actually...

BLINKEN: ...they'll actually increase the pressure on Iran.

INSKEEP: In this agreement there are some sanctions, like on airplane parts and so forth, that are lifted, right?

BLINKEN: Yeah. And these are very modest. For example, there are spare parts for automobiles. What that does is it gives Iran the ability to buy spare parts, a limited amount, and then it can presumably sell more automobiles internationally. We think the value of that is about $200 to $300 million.

INSKEEP: Now, the other thing, Mr. Blinken, about this agreement is it does say when it looks toward the long-term agreement, which we can presume is the most important thing here, they're looking toward a world -- you're looking toward a world in which Iran has, quote, "a mutually defined enrichment program." Looking for a world where Iran has centrifuges, it seems to me, enriches uranium legally, which is something the U.S. has forbidden.

Is that in fact what you're going for here?

BLINKEN: So there are a couple of things that are very important. First of all, there is no right to enrich. The United States does not believe Iran has the right to enrich and we will never agree to a right to enrich. The question is whether at the end of the day Iran can have a program that is extremely limited, that is very carefully monitored, that includes some enrichment in Iran itself.

That's the question. If we can get to a place where the international community, the United States, is satisfied that it can do that in a way that assures the peaceful nature of its program. Then we can have a comprehensive deal. But we may not be able to get there. The next six months will be very challenging in getting that comprehensive agreement.

INSKEEP: Just got a few seconds here, Tony Blinken, but I'll note that you've made a deal with Syria. You're negotiating with Iran, two traditional antagonists of the United States. Some of your allies in the Middle East seem to be horrified. What are they missing?

BLINKEN: What they're missing, I think, is that - well, let's put this in perspective. I think in the case of Iran, the concern that some other countries have, including some of our Arab partners, is that we'll do a nuclear deal with Iran and then we'll forget about all of the other things Iran does that they don't like and we don't like. And the fact is, we won't.

We'll continue to have very, very significant problems with Iran's foreign policy. We'll continue to confront it as necessary. But taking a nuclear weapon off the table is a very significant development for their security and for ours.

INSKEEP: Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor. Thanks very much, sir.

BLINKEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.