Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, says an emerging nuclear deal with Iran will impose tough restrictions on the Islamic Republic and improve regional security across the Middle East. But on Tuesday, Araud acknowledged that it could also pose a potential risk: spurring an array Arab countries to develop their own civilian nuclear programs.
“For me, that’s one of the major weak points of the agreement we are negotiating because let’s be frank: the agreement is not perfect,” Araud said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington. “It’s a compromise. Any agreement is a compromise.”
Araud, joined by his British and German counterparts, insisted that Western negotiators in Switzerland wrested the maximum amount of concessions from Iran as possible. Their joint appearance was the latest indication that a final nuclear deal with Tehran is likely to happen this summer, though perhaps not by the June 30 deadline.
“It’s very likely that we won’t have an agreement before the end of June or even (right) after,” Araud said, citing the difficulties of fleshing out technical details and possible delaying tactics by the Iranians. “We could have a sort of fuzzy end to the negotiation,” he said.
In their remarks, the diplomats said the benefits of such an accord far outweigh the risks. But as the June 30 deadline looms for world powers to make an agreement, Araud differed with his fellow European ambassadors about the unintended consequences a final deal might produce.
Namely, Araud said that allowing Iran to maintain enough enrichment capacity for a one-year breakout time could cause Arab adversaries such as Saudi Arabia to seek a similar capability, resulting in more countries becoming nuclear threshold states.
“That’s one of the concerns that we have to address after the agreement,” he said. “‘Iran got it… so why not us?’”
Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1, struck a framework agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program on April 2, but a number of issues are unresolved, such as the timing of sanctions relief and the type of verification system needed to make sure Iran doesn’t break the rules.
The unity of the P5+1 countries during the course of the negotiations has surprised international observers, particularly given the inclusion of Russia and China. But even the three European powers don’t agree on everything.
In contrast with Araud’s remarks, German Ambassador Peter Wittig and British Ambassador Peter Westmacott sounded a note of skepticism that Saudi Arabia or other Arabian Gulf countries would seek to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities as a result of a deal.
“If we can claim a real, intrusive, credible, viable inspection and verification regime that would I think take away the grounds for engaging in an arms race,” Wittig said. He also noted that Arab countries would likely not envy the intrusive inspections that Iran will be required to endure as a result of a deal, limiting the appeal of a sophisticated nuclear program.
In recent days, talk of Saudi Arabia developing its own civilian nuclear program has increased as the kingdom’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who is not currently in a formal position of power, went public with threats that Riyadh “will want the same” capabilities as Iran.
U.S. officials have said Saudi diplomats did not convey that message at a recent Camp David summit attended by Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf countries. The meeting concluded without the U.S. offering the countries a mutual defense treaty — a fact some Arab diplomats have signaled frustration with in light of the fact that Tunisia was named a “major non-NATO ally” of the U.S. last week.
During the Atlantic Council event on Tuesday, the diplomatic trio also shed light on other aspects of the deal that have become a fixation of the international community. Witting, for example, said that sanctions relief for Iran would not take place before the end of 2015 under even the best case scenario. He noted that economic relief would be tied to Iran’s demonstration of compliance with the deal.