Siegfried S. Hecker is a professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering, as well as a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Between 1986 and 1997, he was the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. On April 8, 2015, he sat down with me for an interview on the recent Iranian nuclear framework agreement. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Sarah Sadlier: The P5+1 and Iran recently announced a framework agreement that would limit the scope of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. Thomas Pickering wrote that this framework was “a good agreement and better than many expected.” Would you agree with his statement? Did the framework exceed your expectations, as well?
Siegfried Hecker: I would say that the agreed framework was a very important step in the right direction. It has better stipulations in terms of the technical aspects than what I would have expected. I had the opportunity eighteen months ago to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, his diplomatic delegation, and also his technical people. At the time, I was convinced that they would take steps that would move the Iranian program backwards, but I did not expect for them to take moves as dramatic as they actually appeared to have agreed upon now. In other words, they are willing to give up more centrifuges and more enriched uranium than I expected, and they are willing to do the things necessary to make the Arak reactor less of a plutonium production reactor concern. The framework for inspections also looks better than what I would have expected them to get. So yes, these aspects of the framework agreement actually exceeded my expectations.
SS: Do you think that Iran will even agree to the stipulations of this framework in the final agreement, especially the issue of immediate or gradual sanctions relief?
SH: As is usually the case in these sorts of diplomatic endeavors, confusion has already occurred. My view of that is that it is a normal part of diplomacy. I believe that they actually have come to an agreement on most of these technical points (though perhaps there are still some questions left about inspections).
Sanctions relief, on the other hand, seems to be the issue that is least well-developed and agreed upon. The Iranians obviously are expecting sanctions relief, and the Americans have promised them sanctions relief, but I think the specifics are going to have to be developed in the next three months. That is the biggest issue left.
SS: How we will convince Iran not to move forward with the bomb in the short and long term?
SH: It is going to take time. I don’t think that they are going to walk away from the deal in the next few years. That doesn’t make any sense for them. However, both sides will contest whether or not the other side is keeping their end of the deal. So, it is important to get through these next few years and demonstrate that each side is willing to do what it promised it would do.
We want to show the Iranians that there are great benefits to staying with the deal. Then, if they actually decide to go ahead and pursue a weapon by either “breaking out” (which would have to happen at a covert facility someplace), there will be more significant drawbacks.
In the end, though, we don’t know if some major security issue is going to come up that will make Iran believe it needs a nuclear weapon. I believe that the deal can be worked. I think that we can hope to demonstrate that Iran has more to gain by staying with the deal, but in the end, it is very hard to predict how the security environment is actually going to develop in the Middle East.
SS: In your April 3 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, you suggested that, “if civilian nuclear power [in Iran]expands and Iran becomes internationally more integrated, it will have more to lose by exercising the bomb option.” Do you believe that such integration is possible?
SH: I believe very strongly that integration is the hope that a deal will actually stick. Through integration, you can get the Iranians involved and get them to see more of the benefits of keeping with the deal. The international community will have to open up. The idea of turning some of Iran’s facilities into scientific user facilities and international facilities, in my opinion is a very, very good move.
SS: What obstacles remain in the way of a final agreement? How close are we to achieving success?
SH: I think that all sides believe that they can get there in three months. However, to me, that is the beginning rather than the end of the process. The real challenge will come once they start to monitor the deal and allow sanctions relief and demonstrate that they are willing to go ahead and take these steps. It is going to take hard work to ensure that any agreement will endure.
Sarah Sadlier, a junior studying history, American studies, Iberian and Latin American cultures, and political science, is the interviews editor of Stanford Political Journal.